US spooks are pushing to build superconducting supercomputers to run their snooping databases.
According to Computerworld such a low-energy system move evolve into an exascale system, which would be about 1,000 faster than today's petaflop system.
The US Director of National Intelligence published a notice asking for help to develop superconducting systems. Such a system can offer "an attractive low-power alternative" to current technology.
He said that the US government wants to "demonstrate a small-scale computer based on superconducting logic and cryogenic memory that is energy efficient, scalable, and able to solve interesting problems".
The largest US supercomputer, Titan, uses just over 8 MW to reach 17.59 petaflops and to get faster, an exascale system would need significantly more power.
Current superconducting technologies can reduce power demand for one petaflop to 25 kW or even 100 petaflops for about 200 kW, including the cost of cryogenic refrigeration.
However, superconducting supercomputing uses super cold temperatures to get metal to a state where there is no or little resistance to electrical current.
Once you get superconductive electronics cold it requires a lot less energy to keep them frozen.
It is possible to use commercial coolers to sustain the very low temperatures, at around -450 degrees Fahrenheit, required for superconducting, along with the operation of Josephson junctions and switches that dissipate little energy.
The NSA has said there are "significant technical obstacles prevented exploration of superconducting computing" and there needs to be cryogenic memory designs that allow operation of memory and logic in close proximity within the cold environment. Switching technology also needs to be a lot faster.
The NSA does not say why it needs to be at the cutting edge of superconducting computers. It just says that conventional computing systems, and their normal metal interconnects, "appear to have no path to be able to increase energy efficiency fast enough to keep up with increasing demands for computation".
NSA databases might need to be huge to store details of all its citizens, but the desire to use a supercomputer to sift through the data gives you an idea of the complex data mining tech that the US is planning. The fact its plans require data mining hardware which has not been invented yet is probably a little worrying.