It is a rare criticism of elite American university students that they do not think big enough. But that is exactly the complaint from some of the largest technology companies and the federal government.
At the heart of this criticism is data. Researchers and workers in fields as diverse as bio-technology, astronomy and computer science will soon find themselves overwhelmed with information. Better telescopes and genome sequencers are as much to blame for this data glut as are faster computers and bigger hard drives.
While consumers are just starting to comprehend the idea of buying external hard drives for the home capable of storing a terabyte of data, computer scientists need to grapple with data sets thousands of times as large and growing ever larger. (A single terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes and could store about 1,000 copies of the Encyclopedia Britannica.)
The next generation of computer scientists has to think in terms of what could be described as Internet scale. Facebook, for example, uses more than 1 petabyte of storage space to manage its users’ 40 billion photos. (A petabyte is about 1,000 times as large as a terabyte, and could store about 500 billion pages of text.)
For the most part, university students have used rather modest computing systems to support their studies. They are learning to collect and manipulate information on personal computers or what are known as clusters, where computer servers are cabled together to form a larger computer. But even these machines fail to churn through enough data to really challenge and train a young mind meant to ponder the mega-scale problems of tomorrow.
From The New York Times
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