Thursday, October 29, 2009

When Will We Have Enough Computing Power?

DNA rendering
Originally uploaded by ynse
At the last Java User's Group meeting here in Austin, Gary Frost mentioned that if he took his $300 Gateway computer with its $300 graphics card back in time 6 years, his computer would be in the top ten fastest super computers in the world. Which got me thinking, "How fast do computers need to get?".
Well obviously a lot faster. I'll be happy when computers can do either of the following (I'm not picky):
1. Store every person's DNA and their medical history. That's 3 billion base pairs per person times almost 7 billion people gives 2.1 × 10^19 base pairs or about a Zettabyte. Then compare and contrast every person's DNA with their illnesses with everyone else and produce a report showing which diseases are related to which DNA differences. For example, asthma could be related to any of 307 combinations of 24 genes being different. Then we should be able to design drugs to compensate for the "defective" genes, or perhaps tweak those genes with a small bit of DNA from a friendly virus.
Storing a Zettabyte seems reasonably straightforward, diff'ing all the genes will take enormous computing power- but that's the power we need.
2. Predict the future health issues of a fertilized human egg based on its DNA. We would need the power to replicate division of all the cells grow the egg into an adult and simulate the running of the biology in each cell and predict the health issues.

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