Britain will build a £900m new supercomputer optimised for AI research and development which will be “one of the most powerful in Europe”, the UK government announced Wednesday.
The machine, dubbed ISAMBARD-AI after the city’s famous resident engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, will be “made up of thousands of state of the art graphics processing units (GPUs).”
Sifted has approached the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to ask whether the supercomputer will be built using Nvidia chips — the industry standard — and if it will also make use of chips from Bristol-based company Graphcore.
In response, a spokesperson said: “An open and competitive tender process will take place which will determine the final technical specifications of Isambard-AI. No decisions have yet been taken."
Announcing the new supercomputer, Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said that the government is “backing the future of British innovation” and that the machine “will help industry experts and researchers harness the game-changing potential of AI.”
But some in the industry believe that this supercomputer isn't likely to hugely move the needle.
“Building out compute capacity is urgent if the UK is to remain relevant as a centre for AI research and investment. Any progress on this front is welcome news and this is a good first step," says Nathan Benaich, founder of London-based AI investment fund Air Street Capital.
"But it will take more than a few thousand GPUs to obtain science and tech superpower status. Even with today’s news, the UK’s future sovereign capacity will be significantly smaller than that of individual corporate labs today."
Today the EU Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen also announced that the EU’s supercomputers will be made available to startups for research and development.
The new UK supercomputer is scheduled to “be installed later this year” and will be based at the National Composites Centre, in collaboration with the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.
Sifted has also asked DSIT how the process of allotting computer resources will be run, and by who.
Sifted updated the piece at 09:22am UK time on 14-08-23 to add the UK government's response.