EU initiative plans to create digital twins of Earth using 20,000 GPUs

The EU-funded Destination Earth mission is set to build virtual replicas of the Earth, using a 20MW computer that uses 20,000 GPUs.

As reported by PCGamerand The Register, the digital twin - known as DestinE - will not be used for a large version of The Sims, but to run full-scale simulations that could help in the fight against climate change. This will include modelling natural disasters and analysing the socio-economic impact they could have, giving legislators crucial information to drive policymaking.

DestinE's implementation will begin in 2021, and will take seven-to-ten years to be fully operational. The mission hopes to integrate four or five digital twins into the public sector by 2025.

20,000 GPUs?

To create an operational digital twin of Earth, the Destination Earth initiative will need 200,000 GPUs to perform the necessary calculations, based on a paper in Nature Computational Science.

In making this argument, the authors cite the "technological uncertainty" as their reason for advocating a GPU-based solution as opposed to a GPU-CPU system.

The paper also warned about the large environmental footprint such a machine could have, given the substantial amount of power needed for 20,000 graphics cards. That is, if they can get their hands on them.

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GPU scarcity

In the current GPU market, the DestinE initiative would struggle to find one high-end GPU, let alone 20,000. Scalpers, crypto miners, and lockdown gamers have contributed towards an unprecedented demand for the latest NVIDIA and AMD GPUs, resulting in stock shortages expected to last throughout 2021.

The RTX 3090 has a price point of €1500, meaning it would cost €30 million to purchase the GPUs. The mission is part of the EU's €1tn investment into green technology, so funding may not be such an issue.

The DestinE mission is set to roll out over seven years, meaning they can gradually accumulate power as the stock shortages subside. Although questions have to be asked as to where GPU technology could be in seven years.

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