Dr. J. Michael Gaziano, a principal investigator on the Million Veteran Program and a professor at the Harvard Medical School, said that the potential benefit might well be a modern, supercharged version of the Framingham Heart Study. That project, begun in 1948, tracked about 5,000 people in a Massachusetts town.
Over a couple of decades, the Framingham study found that heart disease — far from previous single-cause explanations of disease — had multiple, contributing causes including blood cholesterol, diet, exercise and smoking.
Today, given the flood of digital health data and supercomputers, Dr. Gaziano said that population science might be entering a new golden age.
“We have all this big, messy data to create a new field — rethinking how we think about diseases,” he said. “It’s a really exciting time.”
Although impressive, Summit can be seen as a placeholder. Supercomputers that are five times faster — 1,000 petaflops, or an exaflop — are in the works, both abroad and in the United States. The Energy Department’s budget for its advanced computing program is being increased by 39 percent in the two fiscal years ending September 2019, said Paul M. Dabbar, the Energy Department’s under secretary for science.
“We’re doing this to help drive innovation in supercomputing and beyond,” Mr. Dabbar said.