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Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Wins Awards For Poker Playing And DNA Sequencing Machines

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center
Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center's award-winning supercomputer, Bridges.

Supercomputers are pretty much what they sound like: bigger, faster and more sophisticated than any Mac or PC. 

But even within that realm, some machines are more ‘super’ than others. This week at the SC17 supercomputing conference in Denver, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, or PSC, won five awards for work from HPCwire, a globally recognized magazine.  

One of those awards stemmed from the use of PSC's supercomputer, "Bridges," which ran an artificial intelligence system defeating four elite poker players at Heads-up, No-Limit Texas Hold'em competition earlier this year in Pittsburgh.

"It made history, it was a groundbreaking event," said PSC's interim director, Nick Nystrom.

Many supercomputers are essentially a collection of smaller computers that all function in similar ways, he said, but PSC's design process is more akin to assembling a group of different subject-matter experts.

"You want each of the members on the team to be high functioning, the best people you can get," Nystrom said. "But you also want to have very good communication between them, so that they can always exchange information and work together."

Some components might be dedicated to holding memory or raw computing power, while others specialize in artificial intelligence or big data. This approach has put PSC on the cutting edge of supercomputing technology.

In addition to the poker award, PSC was also honored for simulations of coolant flow in a nuclear reactor design; work on large-scale assembly of DNA sequences; and computations helping explain how the CRISPR Cas-9 gene editing method works. Nystrom also received a prize in recognition of his leadership in the field.

Nystrom said the PSC team wants to next apply the machine to tackle problems in the economy and the health care industry.