COVID-19 prompts spike in liquor sales, computing research

Artificial Intelligence and High Performance Computing are being put to work to find strategies to fight COVID-19. Many supercomputers in the work involve chips by Intel, AMD and Nvidia. (IBM)

In addition to rising liquor sales, COVID-19 has sparked a massive research effort using high performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI).

 Organizations that have long focused on AI research, which is inherently based on HPC, and related fields such as medical imaging are joining together to further scientific research for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. 

In the latest example, Nvidia announced Monday it is joining the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which is providing free access to 30 supercomputers with 402 petaflops of compute performance for use by government and nine research universities. 

Nvidia joins IBM, Amazon Web Services, AMD, Google Cloud, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Microsoft.  The effort was spearheaded by IBM with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Energy.   Eight federal government-sponsored supercomputing centers and six DOE labs run HPC systems running on chips from Intel, Nvidia and AMD. Nine research universities are also involved.

“Fighting COVID-19 will require extensive research into areas like bioinformatics, epidemiology and molecular modeling to understand the threat we’re facing and form strategies to address it,” the consortium said. “This work demands a massive amount of computational capacity.”

In a blog, Nvidia said that AI will help researchers ingest and process more data at a faster rate.  Ian Buck, vice president of accelerated computing compared the consortium to NASA’s Apollo moon program.  “Not a race to the moon, this is a race for humanity,” he said. “The rocket ships are GPU supercomputers and their fuel is scientific knowledge. Nvidia is going to help by making these rockets travel as fast as they can.”

In another example of industry involvement into COVID-19 research, on April 1 said it would make a unified data image of virus data publicly available at no cost.    In less than three weeks, was able to aggregate epidemiological data into a federal image. “But for AI, that would be impossible,” said Tom Siebel, founder and the former Siebel Systems, which was purchased by Oracle in 2005 for nearly $6 billion.

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The efforts by various AI and data science companies are expected to help recommend treatments and vaccinations, but also help the private sector companies raise their profiles within government and academia.

The interest in AI-related HPC research with the COVID-19 outbreak follows a nationwide trend in increased sales of liquor, guns and ammo, as reported by a variety of state-run authorities.  In the case of liquor sales, the state liquor authorities in Iowa and Virginia, among others, are temporarily allowing home delivery of liquor by distilleries.