UK government announces new $1.1B supercomputer and AI research facility

UK government announces new $1.1B supercomputer and AI research facility

As part of its commitment to AI R&D, the UK has announced the development of a new supercomputer and research facility to be housed at the University of Bristol.

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The UK government has announced it will build a £900 million (US$1.1 billion) supercomputer, to drive the country’s AI research and innovation capabilities.

The supercomputer, dubbed Isambard-3 after the 19th century British civil and mechanical engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is set to be installed at the National Composites Centre in Bristol later this year. The University of Bristol is home to the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Interactive Artificial intelligence and is part of the GW4 group of universities — an alliance of research-intensive universities that also includes Bath, Cardiff and Exeter.

Bristol University will also host the new AI Research Resource (AIRR or Isambard-AI), a national facility to help support AI research and promote the safe use of the technology. Both the supercomputer and AIRR are financed by the by the AI investment announced the government announced in March.

The machine will be “made up of thousands of state of the art graphics processing units (GPUs)” making it “one of the most powerful in Europe,” according to a statement from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are backing the future of British innovation, investing in a world-leading AI Research Resource in Bristol that will catalyse scientific discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of AI development,” said Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for Science, Innovation and Technology, in comments posted alongside the announcement.

“The Isambard-AI cluster will be one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe and will help industry experts and researchers harness the game-changing potential of AI, including through the mission-critical work of our Frontier AI Taskforce,” she said.

Asked about system details including number of cores and processor types, a spokesperson for the University of Bristol said that it is too early to confirm details about the supercomputer's specifications.

The university, however, already offers several supercomputer clusters for research purposes, and notes that they all run Linux. Its BlueCrystal Phase 4 system is primarily meant for large parallel jobs that use Nvidia P100 GPUs, and offers 32 GPU nodes with two cards each. It also has 525 Lenovo compute nodes that use Intel E5-2680 v4 (Broadwell) CPUs. 

Upcoming summit to focus on benefits and risks of AI

The Isambard-AI announcement comes a month and a half before the UK hosts its global AI Safety Summit on November 1 and 2 at Bletchley Park.

First announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in June during a visit to Washington to meet with US President Joe Biden, the summit aims to bring together government officials, AI companies, and researchers to consider the risks and development of AI technologies and discuss how they can be mitigated through internationally coordinated action.

At the summit, attendees will focus on a number of objectives, including putting forward a process for international collaboration on AI safety, identifying areas for potential collaboration on AI safety research, and showcasing how the development of AI will enable the technology to be used for good.

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Tags supercomputersartificial intelligence (AI)

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