Escapist Podcast - Science and Tech: 011: A Supercomputer Is Managing Our Nuclear Warheads

011: A Supercomputer Is Managing Our Nuclear Warheads

In this episode of The Escapist's Science and Tech podcast, host CJ Miozzi and Escapist writers talk about recent headlines in the world of science and technology: a supercomputer managing our nuclear arsenal, Microsoft selling the Kinect for $200, a hyperefficient way of growing lettuce, and more.

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EDIT: Note to self: Listen before posting

EDIT: Note to self: Listen before posting

Yeah, my first thought was Skynet too. But it's still an impressive computer.

Have you considered talking about Science and Technology instead of politics and hype? You're doing a good job of promoting the idea that Science and Technology are boring by avoiding them.

The "Top Secret" clearance mostly means someone is qualified for certain project-specific clearances on an as-needed basis. It does not give someone access to "all the secrets". Having a Top Secret clearance means you are regularly re-investigated. People change over time, acquire gambling debts or develop conflicted loyalties or are bribed or blackmailed. There are lots of reasons to investigate people who have high levels of access.

When you say the NSA should go after people who "behave suspiciously", how are they going to know who that is? If you want them not to go after anyone, fine. If you want them to collect all the data & then use it in a carefully audited process with meaningful judicial oversight, fine. If you want them to collect it all and just play with it like a toy, fine. But you can't ask them to collect data "only from bad people". The bad people don't register themselves with their ISP and use to make their data easy to find.

My first thought was Colossus: The Forbin Project.

The J is silent? You mean... C and Silent J? I hope that constitutes fair use.

The computer is used for simulating nuclear explosion tests as well, which would use quite a bit of its capacity.

This was the first time I've listened to one of the Science and Tech podcasts and I'm sorry to say I couldn't make it past the 11 minute mark. The whole first segment seemed to be based on a headline and no one seemed to have been alerted that it would be a matter for discussion. The participants should get some sort of heads up so they're not clearly rushing to educate themselves on a topic during the podcast itself.

Its pretty clear from the National Nuclear Security Agency's own press release ( that the Trinity super computer will not "manage" nuclear weapons in the way that seemed to be implied at first during the podcast. In fact, the press release does not use that word to describe Trinity's function. Trinity's purpose will be to handle the modeling and simulation for the "Nuclear Stewardship Program." This program, simply put, is the government's way of making sure the weapons still work, how well they can be expected to work over the years, and whether or not an accident might be imminent. Having weapons that function and knowing how they can be expected to function is a critical part of the deterrence equation, whether you believe in it or not. Knowing when weapons become nonfunctional or dangerous and need to be dismantled is also serious business. All of these models are likely to be painfully specific and statistical simulations are known to be very memory intensive, both in terms of processing power and storage space. You'll need a lot of space if you're trying to account for every conceivable outcome.

Until quite recently, the United States used to get a lot of the basic data by detonating warheads just to see what would happen. Having a super computer means you don't have to set off nuclear weapons just to check in on them.

EDIT: This recent LANL video helps give some sense of what the "stockpile" has encompassed in the past and the kind of work that goes into maintaining it:

Hm, so I think you're being a bit hard on Greenpeace on the LEGO thing. Not that it's hamfisted or over the top but just what they're trying to acieve. So they aren't trying to stop lego using oil in their products, just stop cooperating with Shell, who are a major enviorment bad-guy. Like Captain planet-villain level bad. It's not hypocropsy to use a product, but not suport a super-villan also uses it. It's reasonable to say "hey, you're selling products to kids, maybe not put the logo of one of the worst enviormental theives in thr world on your products.
I agree though that the video isn't very subtle or informing.


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