One of Europe’s fastest supercomputers to be built in Bristol for AI research

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The University of Bristol has been chosen to host one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe, which will serve as a national resource for researchers and industry experts.

To be known as Isambard-AI, plans for the supercomputer have been backed by a £900m investment to transform the UK’s computing capacity and establish a dedicated AI Research Resource (AIRR).

The facility will be used by a wide range of organisations from across the UK to study AI, including areas such as accelerating automated drug discovery and climate research.

Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, project lead at the University of Bristol, said: “Isambard-AI will be one of the world’s first, large-scale, open AI supercomputers, and builds on our expertise designing and operating cutting-edge computational facilities, such as the incoming Isambard 3.”

Science minister Michelle Donelan said: “We are backing the future of British innovation, investing in a world-leading AIRR in Bristol that will catalyse scientific discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of AI development.

“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.”

The GW4 Alliance (also known as GW4) is a consortium of universities in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to enhance research collaboration. In 2018, it announced the creation of the largest Arm-based supercomputer in Europe, GW4 Isambard.

Isambard is a Cray XC50 system comprising 10,496 cores. It is one of the world’s first production Arm-based supercomputers.

Dr Joanna Jenkinson, director of GW4 Alliance, said: “GW4 Isambard started as a GW4 collaborative research community and was the world’s first Arm-based supercomputer to go into production use.

“Due to the success of Isambard, we secured further funding and I was pleased to attend a government delegation visit to the site of the recently announced £10m GW4 Isambard 3 facility.”

The UK is set to host the world’s first AI Safety Summit in November, which will bring together leading countries, technology organisations and academics to discuss the risks created or exacerbated by the most powerful AI systems, and how to address and mitigate them. The summit will also look at how the benefits of safe AI can be unlocked to improve lives.

In April, Google released new information about the systems used to power and train its AI systems, which it said were built on the world’s fastest supercomputers for that purpose.

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