IBM will announce today a $100 million exploratory research initiative to build a supercomputer 500 times more powerful than today's fastest computers.
The new computer, nicknamed Blue Gene by IBM researchers, will be capable of more than one quadrillion operations per second (one petaflop). The company said that this level of performance will make Blue Gene 1000 times more powerful than the Deep Blue machine that beat world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, and around two million times more powerful than today's desktop PCs.
The supercomputer's power will be used to model the folding of human proteins. Company executives said that learning more about how proteins fold is expected to give medical researchers a better understanding of diseases and potential cures.
Pharmaceutical companies could design high-tech prescription drugs customised to the specific needs of individual people, and doctors could respond more rapidly to changes in bacteria and viruses that cause them to become drug resistant.
Dr Paul Horn, senior vice president of IBM research, commented: "If this computer unlocks the mystery of how proteins fold, it will be an important milestone in the future of medicine and healthcare," he said.
"One day, you're going to be able to walk into a doctor's office and have a computer analyse a tissue sample, identify the pathogen that ails you and then instantly prescribe a treatment best suited to your specific illness and individual genetic makeup."
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