This fall, the Chinese National University of Defense Technology announced that it had created the world’s fastest supercomputer, Tianhe-1A, which clocks in at 2,500 trillion operations per second. Powering the Tianhe-1A are some three million processing cores from Nvidia, the Silicon Valley company that has sold hundreds of millions of graphics chips for videogames. That’s right—every time someone fires up a videogame like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft, the state of the art in technology advances.
What a switch. For centuries, the military has driven technology forward, fostering new waves of industrialization and corporate use. That game (pardon the pun) is over: Welcome to the entertainment-industrial complex.
The Apple iPhone, often touted as the tech symbol of our era, is actually more evolutionary than revolutionary. Much of its technology was perfected for hand-held videogames like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, which sold in the tens of millions. Think about how much more productively workers are now able to communicate because of some silly games.
It’s all about productivity. Last week, kids of all ages dropped everything to plug a $150 device called Kinect into their Microsoft Xbox 360 game consoles. Five million sold in the last two months. Kinect, which uses algorithms to recognize faces and gestures and respond to voice commands, allows players to use only their own movements, no controllers or button pushes needed.
So why has the military been displaced? For one, capital formation. Governments had the unique capacity to raise (read: tax) the enormous capital needed to fund state-of-the-art projects. But a fully functioning stock market can raise billions for productive commercial applications, bypassing the military connection. Hate Wall Street all you want, but it’s now better than wars at driving progress.