Tech ingenuity supporting business and society in challenging times
Fujitsu-architected Supercomputer Fugaku at RIKEN
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Tech ingenuity supporting business and society in challenging times

Sam Forsdick — December 2020


At the Fujitsu ActivateNow conference, the global technology leader showcased how cutting-edge IT — from its world-beating Fugaku supercomputer to its unique AI and quantum-inspired capabilities — is helping to define a more positive future.

The potential for digital transformation technologies to improve operating efficiencies has long been recognized, but they are now vital in helping the world to adapt to the new realities of a post-pandemic world.

That’s the view of Fujitsu EMEA CTO Dr Joseph Reger, who used his keynote address at Fujitsu’s recent ActivateNow online conference, to demonstrate how many of the digital transformation company’s technologies could be quickly retargeted to the task of tackling the current challenging environment.

“Let’s use the powerful and flexible technologies already at our hands to fight the spreading of the virus and make life more bearable under the restrictions,” he said. “And after the pandemic, let’s use them to help us come back to normal as fast as we can  and perhaps even grab the chance to redefine what ‘normal’ means.”
Retargeting tech for a post-Covid world

Pointing to face-masks and social distancing as the most common methods being used to control the spread of the virus, Reger demonstrated how two technologies, which are more commonly associated with digital transformation, could improve their effectiveness.

With masks, Reger explained how simple machine-learning algorithms could automate the process of determining who was wearing a mask properly. Such technologies are already used to identify facial features, such as people’s eyes, nose and mouth, so adapting the technology to identify mask-wearing behavior is relatively simple, he said.

The Fujitsu digital incubation team in Munich has trained the AI on image libraries of masked and non-masked people and tested the results against public video streams to see how well it copes with crowds of people. The results make use of edge computing, reducing the amount of processing that is needed to be performed in the cloud and therefore speeding up its performance.

“The results are robust, [with] the processing and the inference taking place in real time,” said Reger. “The AI is even capable of determining whether a mask is being worn over both the nose and mouth.”
Quantum-inspired solutions to the pandemic

New applications for Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer technology have also been found to help the Covid-19 global effort. Among many applications, the technology — which uses silicon chips to tackle some of the complex problems that quantum computers are being designed to solve — is being used in live sports settings.

Reger explained: “There is a very big and pressing need to fill up sports stadiums safely. In the early phases of the pandemic utilization [of sports stadiums] was zero percent. Nobody was allowed in, and fans have been getting quite impatient. So, there are now attempts to try to ease the rules.”

Many stadiums have taken on a fixed and inflexible seat allocation scheme in order to abide by social-distancing rules. Reger takes the example of supporters being seated in pairs to keep a 2-metre safe distance between different households. However, not all fans come in twos.


Fujitsu’s Dr Joseph Reger: Exploring how Digital Annealer technology can optimize capacity in soccer stadiums — while maintaining social distancing.


“Depending on group sizes and a number of other things, the utilization will typically be between 38% to 45%,” says Reger. “That’s certainly much better than zero, but the Digital Annealer can achieve much better results.”

By exploring countless different permutations, the Digital Annealer can calculate the optimum capacity of a socially-distanced stadium. The result, said Reger, is up to 60% utilization which, for an 80,000 seater stadium, charging €25 ($30) per seat, could result in a revenue boost of up to €300,000 ($364,000) per match.
Quantum-inspired drug discovery

The Digital Annealer also has the potential to assist in identifying new drugs to tackle the symptoms of coronavirus. “The Digital Annealer’s capability of solving combinatorial optimization problems really quickly, means we can have a massive impact on the drug discovery market,” explains quantum-inspired optimization consultant Ellen Devereux.

Currently, it typically takes around 12 to 15 years for a drug to come to market and costs more than $1 billion. Fujitsu is looking at ways to use the power of the Digital Annealer to disrupt the drug discovery phase of the process, she said.

“Any disease or pathogen is made up of fats and protein and we can target one protein, which we know is key to its survival. We describe the binding properties, the shape and the synthesizability of the molecules. This creates a large library of molecules — 10 million to a billion — which we think could potentially bind with that molecule.

“The Digital Annealer figures out whether one of them will bind. It takes a process that could take months or even years of sorting through various molecules and finds it within 10 minutes.”

Partnering with US pharmaceuticals company PolarisQB to find a drug for dengue fever, the Digital Annealer was able to take a possible 1 billion molecules and identify the 5,000 most likely candidates. Machine learning was then used to identify which would be harmful to humans, before a final 20 were selected for trials.
Supercomputing potential

One of Fujitsu’s biggest technological breakthroughs of 2020 has been the development of Fugaku, which is now recognized as the world’s fastest supercomputer. Developed in collaboration with Japanese research institute RIKEN, the supercomputer is capable of completing 2.6 quadrillion operations per second.

Although Fugaku was not due to be officially launched until 2021, its astonishing capabilities are already being utilized in the research of infection-prevention methods for Covid-19. “It’s wonderful how Fugaku was [made] operational in time for Covid-19,” says Yasushi Okuno, deputy program director at RIKEN. “As speed is key in combatting infectious disease, the focus is on how to deliver effective drugs as soon as possible.” (See Fujitsu blog: Combating COVID-19 with Supercomputer Fugaku.)

The supercomputer’s high performance is a result of its six-dimensional connection technology. This gives it a huge advantage when researching measures for restricting the spread of Covid-19.

Fugaku principal architect, Fujitsu’s Yuichiro Ajima, explained: “To realize a supercomputer with petascale computing ability, it needs more than 80,000 processors. To prevent communication performance from decreasing, as we saw in 3D-connection technology, we needed more communication channels. And to do that, we expand the networks dimensions to 4D, 5D and now to 6D.”


Supercomputer Fugaku architect: Yuichiro Ajima from Fujitsu’s Platform Development Unit

It is expected that this new computational power will help solve complex problems associated with drug discovery, medical care, disaster control, global environmental issues and energy sustainability. “I want to see it being used for science, technology research and to help solve the various issues faced by today’s society,” Ajima says. (See Fujitsu Blog: The birth of six-dimensional interconnect technology.)

First published December 2020
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