You're Not Worried Nearly Enough about China

China now has the world's fastest supercomputer, faster than anything we've got by a factor of five. Forget the South China Sea. That's rope-a-dope, and we're the dope that's getting roped. We lost that one. We're about to lose the next round, too.

China has built the computer with chips that it designed and manufactured in China, after the United States banned Intel from selling its fastest chips to China.

China not only has the world's fastest individual supercomputer, but it has more total supercomputing capacity than the United States. And its capacity is growing, and getting even faster; China claims it will add a zero to computing speed by 2020, which would make its top-of-the-line box 50 times faster than the Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

This isn't about virtual reality headsets. Supercomputers are a decisive instrument in economics and war. They break codes (or create hard-to-break codes), for example.  They simulate nuclear explosions. They design air frames. They model the molecular properties of new materials. China's economy, to be sure, is far behind America's in many key areas--but not in chip-making, or computer architecture. Not any more.

China has surface-to-ship missiles (the DF-21 and its successors) that can sink U.S. carriers. It has satellite-killer missiles that can take out our space-based communications. It has high-speed maneuvering missiles. We know about all this. What should worry us is what we don't know about yet. China's super-computing capacity opens up a vast number of possibilities for industrial as well as weapons design. It turbocharges the rate of innovation and drastically reduces developing and testing time and costs. This is an advantage America used to take for granted. We controlled exports of fast computer chips, even the ones embedded in game boxes, because we wanted to maintain our edge. And now it's gone. Not a single politician to my knowledge has mentioned it.