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Pitt-CMU supercomputer, dubbed ‘Bridges,’ to debut in poker tournament

Deb Erdley

Pittsburgh’s “Bridges” could pave the way for the next big things in areas as varied as artificial intelligence, national security and neuroscience.

Named for its home in the city of bridges and its potential to be a bridge for researchers working on new developments in a diverse range of disciplines, Bridges is the latest offspring of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Scheduled to be available to scientists, academicians and corporate researchers through 2019, the supercomputer makes its public debut at a man-versus-machine poker tournament beginning Wednesday at Rivers Casino.

Nick Nystrom, principal investigator in the Bridges project and senior director of research at the center, said the tournament will give Bridges an opportunity to demonstrate how far artificial intelligence has come.

Running 2.5 petabytes “or the equivalent of about 2,000 very good laptop hard drives,” as Nystrom puts it, Bridges can draw on vast data sets in real time. That allows it to weigh and react to the unknowns of other poker players’ cards and strategies.

“(Poker) is a hard game with many unknowns. That makes it a lot like real world economics or security where you have to make the best decision you can even when you can’t know all of your opponents’ strategy and what they know,” Nystrom said. “That is going to be a very important part of artificial intelligence in the future, dealing with these very fuzzy scenarios with a lot of unknowns.”

The National Science Foundation underwrote development of the supercomputer, which came about in phases and cost $17.2 million.

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University since 1986, is among a handful of academic supercomputing centers across the country NSF is equipping for such work. Others are located in Tennessee, Illinois and California.

“Our goal with Bridges is to transform researchers’ thinking from, ‘What can I do within my local computing environment?’ to ‘What problems do I really want to solve?’ ” Nystrom said.

The Pittsburgh center has allocated computing time with Bridges to 2,000 users running 600 experiments.

Researchers have come to Pittsburgh from across the nation to tap Bridges’ capabilities. But Nystrom said the supercomputer is really a Pittsburgh story with the potential to craft endless Pittsburgh stories, much like the world-changing one that began in an Oakland laboratory basement decades ago where Jonas Salk unraveled the mysteries of polio.

“We have world-class life sciences at Pitt and UPMC, world-class computer science and artificial intelligence at CMU and world-class computing at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center,” he said. “That makes Pittsburgh a natural place where this kind of research is happening.”

Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or [email protected].


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