The British government has used the world’s first AI Safety Summit at Bletchley Park to confirm it will fund another supercomputer to help it compete against the AI leaders US and China.

The government on Wednesday announced it will invest £225m ($273m) into an artificial intelligence supercomputer, which will be called Isambard-AI, after the 19th century engineer Isambard Brunel.

And the government said the Isambard-AI supercomputer will eventually be connected to a newly announced Cambridge supercomputer called Dawn, which is the UK’s fastest AI supercomputer, which has been built by the University of Cambridge Research Computing Services, Intel and Dell Technologies.

Dawn Supercomputer at Hosted at University of Cambridge’s Open Zettascale Lab’s site.
Image credit University of Cambridge

Isambard-AI

The Dawn supercomputer will vastly increase the country’s AI and simulation compute capacity for both research and industrial use. It is expected to drive significant advancements in healthcare, green fusion energy development and climate modelling.

And now in addition to this supercomputer, the UK government has confirmed that the University of Bristol will build Isambard-AI supercomputer, which will make “British AI supercomputing 30 times more powerful” when the two supercomputers are combined.

The government’s Frontier AI Taskforce and British researchers will be equipped with cutting edge supercomputers to analyse the safety of advanced AI models, thanks to the new investment in the ‘AI Research Resource’.

Chaired by Ian Hogarth, the Frontier AI Taskforce will have priority access to the connected computing tools to support its work to mitigate the risks posed by the most advanced forms of AI, including national security from the development of bioweapons and cyberattacks.

The resource will also support the work of the AI Safety Institute, as it develops a programme of research looking at the safety of frontier AI models and supports government policy with this analysis.

“The tool will build and connect two new supercomputers across the UK, giving researchers access to resources with more than 30-times the capacity of the UK’s current largest public AI computing tools,” the government stated. “They will be able to use the machines, which will be running from summer 2024, to analyse advanced AI models to test safety features and drive breakthroughs in drug discovery and clean energy.”

The investment into the AI Research Resource has been tripled to £300 million, up from £100 million announced in March 2023, in a bid to further boost UK AI capabilities.

This will bolster Isambard-AI, which will be Britain’s most advanced computer, the government said.

Isambard-AI will utilise 5,000 advanced AI chips from Nvidia in a supercomputer built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

AI investment

“Frontier AI models are becoming exponentially more powerful,” said Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan at Bletchley Park. “At our AI Safety Summit in Bletchley Park, we have made it clear that Britain is grasping the opportunity to lead the world in adopting this technology safely so we can put it to work and lead healthier, easier and longer lives.”

“This means giving Britain’s leading researchers and scientific talent access to the tools they need to delve into how this complicated technology works,” said Donelan. “That is why we are investing in building UK’s supercomputers, making sure we cement our place as a world-leader in AI safety.”

Bristol’s Isambard-AI computer will be backed by a £225 million investment.

The supercomputer, 10 times faster than the UK’s current fastest machine, will deliver over 200 ‘petaflops’, meaning it can make 200,000,000,000,000,000 calculations (that’s 200 quadrillion) every second.

In May this year the UK government earmarked £1 billion to invest in the semiconductor industry in an attempt to secure the country’s chip supplies, and reduce its dependence on Asia for the most commercially important microchips.

Critics at the time pointed out the British government is spending is significantly less than the massive chip investments of the United States ($52 billion) and the European Union (€45 billion).

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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