If you’re a software engineer, this is something that you should very definitely read. It would be a game changer for performing calculations on computers, and it’s getting a lot of interest almost immediately.

John Gustafson, one of the foremost experts in scientific computing, has proposed a new number format that provides more accurate answers than standard floats, yet saves space and energy. The new format might well revolutionize the way we do numerical calculations.

Perhaps most topical to Battlescape:

Those [64-bit] unums can represent numbers ranging over 600 orders of magnitude with ten decimals of accuracy

Does this mean that Battlescape can use unums to produce more miraculous results? No. It means that if this number format is adopted by CPU and GPU manufacturers that we may see *significant* improvements in calculation-heavy tasks like simulations and procedural generation. Think PASCAL GPUs are amazing? unum GPUs would very probably make them look like abacuses.

Here’s a large PDF slide deck that Gustafson put together:

http://www.johngustafson.net/presentations/Multicore2016-JLG.pdf

A more compact version that doesn’t require a full download:

And an hour-long YouTube interview with Gustafson which I found very informative. It’s essentially a narration of part of the slide deck.

The reason that Gustafson delved into this format was because he’s involved in supercomputing (“one of the foremost experts”). He’s interested in making exascale computing a reality.

Kilo - thousand

Mega - million

Giga - billion

**Peta - thousand billion**

Tera - million billion

Exa - billion billion

The world’s fastest supercomputer runs at 33 petaFLOPS, but draws 17.6 MW of power. Clearly, we can’t scale up anything to exascale because it would draw over 500 GW of power. More efficient hardware is needed. Gustafson is giving us something that’s dramatically more efficient - and accurate. It’s his best offering on how we can get beyond the current floating point format - in many ways.