Smart into Art: NVIDIA SC19 Booth Turns Computer Scientists into Art at News-Filled Show

Back in the day, the annual SC supercomputing conference was filled with tabletops hung with research posters. Three decades on, this week’s Denver edition was a sea of sharp-angled booths, crowned with three-dimensional signage, promoting logos in a multitude of blues and reds.

But nowhere on the SC19 show floor drew more of the show’s 14,000 attendees than NVIDIA’s booth, built around a broad, floor-to-ceiling triangle with 2,500 square feet of ultra-high def LED screens. With a packed lecture hall on one side and HPC simulations playing on a second, it was the third wall that drew the most buzz.

Cycling through was a collection of AI-enhanced photos of several hundred GPU developers — grad students, CUDA pioneers, supercomputing rockstars — together with descriptions of their work.

Like accelerated computing’s answer to baseball cards, they were rendered into art using AI style transfer technology inspired by various painters — from the classicism of Vermeer to van Gogh’s impressionism to Paul Klee’s abstractions.

Meanwhile, NVIDIA sprinted through the show, kicking things off with a news-filled keynote by founder and CEO Jensen Huang, helping to power research behind the two finalists nominated for the Gordon Bell prize, and joining in to celebrate its partner Mellanox.

And in its booth, 200 engineers took advantage of free AI training through the Deep Learning Institute and dozens of tech talks were provided by leading researchers packed in shoulder to shoulder.

Wall in the Family 

Piecing together the Developer Wall project took a dozen NVIDIANs scrambling for weeks in their spare time. The team of designers, technologists and marketers created an app where developers could enter some background, which would be paired with their photo once it’s run through style filters at DeepArt.io, a German startup that’s part of NVIDIA’s Inception startup incubator.

“What we’re trying to do is showcase and celebrate the luminaries in our field. They amazing work they’ve done is the reason this show exists,” said Doug MacMillian, a developer evangelist who helped run the big wall initiative.

Behind him flashed an image of Jensen Huang, rendered as if painted by Cezanne. Alongside him was John Stone, the legendary HPC researcher at the University of Illinois, as if painted by Vincent Van Gogh. Close by were Erik Lindahl, who heads the international GROMACS molecular simulation project, right out of a Joan Miró painting. Paresh Kharya, a data center specialist at NVIDIA, looked like an abstracted sepia-tone circuit board.

Enabling the Best and Brightest 

That theme — how NVIDIA’s working to accelerate the work of people in an ever growing array of industries — continued behind the scenes.

In a final rehearsal hours before Huang’s keynote, Ashley Korzun — a Ph.D. engineer who’s spent years working on the manned mission to Mars set for the 2030s — saw for the first time a demo visualizing her life’s work at the space agency.

As she stood on stage, she witnessed an event she’s spent years simulating purely with data – the fiery path that the Mars lander, a capsule the size of a two-story condo, will take as it slows in seven dramatic minutes from 12,000 miles an hour to gently stick its landing on the Red Planet.

“This is amazing,” she quietly said through tears. “I never thought I’d be able to visualize this.”

Flurry of News

Huang later took the stage and in a broad-sweeping two hour keynote set out a range of announcements that show how NVIDIA’s helping others do their life’s work, including:

Award-Winning Work

SC19 plays host to a series of awards throughout the show, and NVIDIA featured in a number of them.

Both finalists for the Gordon Bell Prize for outstanding achievement in high performance computing — the ultimate winner, ETH Zurich, as well as University of Michigan — ran their work on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer, powered by nearly 28,000 V100 GPUs.

NVIDIA’s founding chief scientist, David Kirk, received this year’s Seymour Cray Computer Engineering Award, for innovative contributions to HPC systems. He was recognized for his path-breaking work around development of the GPU.

And NVIDIA’s Vasily Volkov co-authored with UC Berkeley’s James Demmel a seminal paper 11 years ago recognized with the Time of Time Award  for a work of lasting impact. The paper, which has resulted in a new way of thinking and modeling algorithms on GPUs, has had nearly 1,000 citations.

Looking Further Ahead

If the SC show is about powering the future, no corner of the show was more forward looking than the annual Supercomputing Conference Student Cluster Competition.

This year, China’s Tsinghua University captured the top crown. It beat out 15 other undergrad teams using NVIDIA V100 Tensor Core GPUs in an immersive HPC challenge demonstrating the breadth of skills, technologies and science that it takes to build, maintain and use supercomputers. Tsinghua also won the IO500 competition, while two other prizes were won by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

The teams came from many different markets, including Germany, Latvia, Poland and Taiwan, in addition to China and Singapore.

Up Next: More Performance for the World’s Data Centers

NVIDIA’s frenetic week at SC19 ended with a look at what’s next, with Jensen joining Mellanox CEO Eyal Waldman on stage at an evening event hosted by the networking company, which NVIDIA agreed to acquire earlier this year.

Jensen and Eyal discussed how their partnership will enable the future of computing, with Jensen detailing the synergies between the companies. “Mellanox has an incredible vision,” Huang said. ““In a couple years we’re going to bring more compute performance to data centers than all of the compute since the beginning of time.”

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