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  1. Technology
February 29, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

His predecessor, the legendary William Norris, has spent the past couple of decades bending the ears of government and other companies in the US computer industry with challenges and imprecations, most of them sound commonsense, and Control Data’s current chairman Robert Price is not going to be seen as a laggard when it comes to polemics. Speaking before the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute, Price insisted that the US should take positive steps to ensure that it retained supremacy in supercomputing. Price declared that dominance in advanced information processing technology is key to world economic leadership in the coming years, and supercomputing is the area where the most important technological developments take place. Price said that although the US currently has a competitive advantage in supercomputing, it is feeling increasing pressure from Japan. Supercomputers are equally, if not more, important in the technological advances they spawn as they are in their role as engineers of computation, Price told the Institute. Those advances ultimately find their way into the mainstream of computers from mainframes to workstations and personal computers. The alpha and omega Calling supercomputers the alpha and omega of high technology, Price said they are essential to US competitiveness and economic health. What it comes down to is this: the nation that leads in information processing technology is destined to be the competitive leader in world trade. It will be the nation that brings more new products to market. Price said that the US has become too dependent on foreign sources for advanced technology, and that it no longer has the necessary infrastructure to support competitive supercomputer development. There needs to be an ongoing rigorous dialogue with Japan to achieve a level playing field in supercomputer trade, Price declared. This dialogue should cover the whole range of issues from market access to predatory pricing practices. Protective tariffs or government subsidies to prop up the domestic supercomputer industry are not the answer. What’s really needed is a proactive, affirmative US government policy of supporting technological excellence in supercomputing. Price made three recommendations for a government policy to preserve the US lead in supercomputing. It should establish a formal programme of assigning promising supercomputer design proposals to specific laboratories and agencies that will procure and integrate systems into their working environments. The procurement of supercomputers that satisfy design and performance should be guaranteed. It should relax and simplify export control procedures. The current policy, he said, is driven by defence needs, economic concerns and international relations. However, the concept of ‘National Security Interest’ has been taken to mean only the first of these factors. And the US government should stipulate that the Departments of Energy and Defense and the National Science Foundation give broader support to US university procurements of US supercomputers. There are still more supercomputers in Japanese universities than in our own universities, he chided the congressmen.

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