This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

High performance computing

Computer systems that exceed the performance capabilities of consumer devices (i.e. widely available desktop and laptop computers) by an order of magnitude.

Key sectors

Influences all sectors of the economy, including:

  • Agriculture
  • Banking & Finance
  • Communications
  • Defence & Defence Industry
  • Energy & Environment
  • Education & Research
  • Health
  • Manufacturing
  • Mining & Resources
  • Space
  • Transport & Logistics

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - High
National Security - High

Key Australian Government actions

Initiatives

  • National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS)
  • The Digital Economy Strategy
  • The International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy
  • Australia’s Cyber Security Strategy 2020
  • Department of Defence IIP Project ICT-2286

Regulations

  • Nil

Example outcomes

  • Improved Government decision making through enhanced data analysis and manipulation capacity
  • Increased capacity for pre-emptive bushfire prevention using sophisticated models
  • Better performance of big data workloads domestically, reducing the need to transfer them overseas
  • Improved traffic management in major cities during peak-hour across modes of transport
  • High throughput, rapid data analysis, locally and as part of international consortia to inform the public health response during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Improved cyber security capabilities through complex data analytics at scale
  • Greatly enhanced research productivity and research opportunity only possible on high performance computers

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification Category

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Applied computing
  • Bioinformatics and computational biology
  • Classical physics
  • Computer vision and multimedia computation
  • Data management and data science
  • Distributed computing and systems software
  • Fluid mechanics and thermal engineering
  • Numerical and computational mathematics
  • Theoretical and computational chemistry

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • Processing data provided by autonomous cars to improve obstacle detection and avoidance
  • Predictive analysis of financial markets and identify risk and opportunities
  • Medical and biological research – including the study of emerging diseases
  • Discovery of novel materials, chemicals and drugs
  • Climate pattern modelling and weather forecasting
  • Modelling and simulation of aerodynamics, nuclear, and quantum systems
  • Oil and gas exploration via geoscientific simulations
  • Air traffic management systems
  • Training machine learning models
  • Defence research, including AI, and in support of major defence acquisitions

Readiness Level – 2–5 years

  • Supercomputers optimised for machine learning and data analytics to assist with complex decision making at scale
  • Extensive public transport and crowd management systems
  • Cyber-range and simulation platforms for effective human and AI collaboration in cyber security
  • Ability to utilise increasing transport data flows to improve real-time and predictive traffic management capacities

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Neuromorphic supercomputers that can emulate a majority of the human brain’s functions
  • Cloud and edge computing capabilities that match top supercomputers
  • Hybrid quantum and classical computing systems

Australia's place in the world

Australia ranks 13th globally for research impact, led by the University of Sydney, but no Australian research institutions are in the top 50 internationally. The United States dominates in overall research impact, over double the ranking of the next highest nation, China. The US has 7 out of 10 of the top ten ranked institutions. China has 2 research institutions in the top 5, including the highest ranked, and France has one.

The United States has the highest amount of venture capital investment, approximately double that of China. Australia is ranked 8th and VC investment in this field has been increasing at around 23% p.a. since 2016.

The number of patents lodged annually is increasing by around 1% p.a. China has the most patent families, closely followed by the United States.

Australia has invested significantly in HPC infrastructure and has the skilled workforce required to realise the benefits of this technology. The National Computing Infrastructure at the Australian National University is the fastest super computer in the southern hemisphere. The machine is used to perform medical research, climate simulations, astronomy workloads, and more.

Opportunities and risks

High Performance Computing (HPC) can be leveraged to provide diverse commercial, geopolitical and research advantages, and is a useful asset for policymakers, scientists and innovators. While HPC extends existing capabilities, the potential advantages are vast and include cryptographic capabilities to respond to and carry out cyber operations, highly accurate economic and environmental predictions, and eventually, emulation of the human brain. HPC will also enable Australian businesses to solve complex computational problems using cloud-based infrastructure and more abundant and richer data sources.

Australia is well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities arising from HPC, having already invested in significant computing infrastructure. Investing in large computing infrastructure carries security and investment risks. As an important national asset, HPC is subject to the threat of being physically compromised, which could result in immediate damage to national capability and reputation.

The cost of supercomputers is significant. Australia’s Gadi—the world’s 53rd most powerful supercomputer—required AUD$70 million of Australian government funding, and Japan’s Fugaku—the world’s fastest supercomputer—cost AUD$1.4 billion.

Supercomputers are also energy intensive; Gadi requires the same amount of electricity as that of a medium-sized suburb (though more energy efficient supercomputers are in development). Australia will need to consider how to best balance the opportunities afforded by HPC, while managing the large investment, cyber vulnerabilities and electricity costs. Careful management of the risks, such as utilising the opportunities provided by cloud-based supercomputing, may present Australia with yet more opportunity to expand our HPC toolset.

Research impact (RI)

Australia ranks 13th for research impact in a field led by the United States and China. Total volume of published research has increased at around 7% p.a. over the 5 year period 2016–2020, with 24% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. USA - 41043
  2. China - 18002
  3. UK - 8737
  4. Germany - 7031
  5. Japan - 5440
  1. Australia - 2687

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

The United States leads venture capital (VC) investment in this area with more than double the amount invested by China; Australia is ranked 8th. Investment globally in this area has been growing at around 23% p.a. since 2016.

  1. USA
  2. China
  3. Canada
  4. France
  5. UK
  1. Australia

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

For this technology, most patents were filed by applicants or inventors in China and the United States. Australia ranks 15th. Overall patent applications have been increasing at around 1% annually since 2015.

  1. China - 635
  2. USA - 630
  3. R. of Korea - 79
  4. Japan - 67
  5. Taiwan - 52
  1. Australia - 10

Research institutions - international

China and France are home to the top 3 institutions globally by research impact, with the United States filling out the top 10.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 Chinese Academy of Sciences | China 3543
2 French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) | France 2944
3 Tsinghua University | China 2929
4 United States Department of Energy | United States 2351
5 IBM | United States 2333
6 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor | United States 2095
7 Oak Ridge National Laboratory | United States 2093
8 Argonne National Laboratory | United States 2070
9 Stanford University | United States 2034
10 Massachusetts Institute of Technology | United States 2030

Research institutions - Australia

Within Australia, the University of Sydney has the highest research impact. No Australian institutions feature in the global top 50.

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 University of Sydney 667
2 University of New South Wales 570
3 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology 488
4 Australian National University 464
5 University of Melbourne 442
6 CSIRO 301
7 Monash University 297
8 University of Queensland 193
9 University of Western Australia 123
10 Curtin University 120

Patents - Australia

Top 4 Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
Anditi 1
Big Picture Medical 1
Big Picture Vision 1
Youranswer International 1

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.