Edinburgh is poised to host a next-generation compute system amongst the fastest in the world, with the potential to revolutionise breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, medicine, and clean low-carbon energy.

The city has been named as the preferred choice to host the new national exascale facility, as the UK government continues to invest in the country’s world-leading computing capacity – crucial to the running of modern economies and cutting-edge scientific research.

Exascale is the next frontier in computing power, where systems are built to carry out extremely complex functions with increased speed and precision. This in turn enables researchers to accelerate their work into some of the most pressing challenges we face, including the development of new drugs, and advances in nuclear fusion to produce potentially limitless clean low-carbon energy.

The exascale system hosted at the University of Edinburgh will be able to carry out these complicated workloads while also supporting critical research into AI safety and development, as the UK seeks to safely harness its potential to improve lives across the country.

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said: 

If we want the UK to remain a global leader in scientific discovery and technological innovation, we need to power up the systems that make those breakthroughs possible.

This new UK government funded exascale computer in Edinburgh will provide British researchers with an ultra-fast, versatile resource to support pioneering work into AI safety, life-saving drugs, and clean low-carbon energy. It is part of our £900 million investment in uplifting the UK’s computing capacity, helping us forge a stronger Union, drive economic growth, create the high-skilled jobs of the future and unlock bold new discoveries that improve people’s lives.

Computing power is measured in ‘flops’ – floating point operations – which means the number of arithmetic calculations that a computer can perform every second.  An exascale system will be 50 times more powerful than our current top-end system, ARCHER2, which is also housed in Edinburgh.

The investment will mean new high-skilled jobs for Edinburgh, while the new national facility would vastly upgrade the UK’s research, technology and innovation capabilities, helping to boost economic growth, productivity and prosperity across the country in support of the Prime Minister’s priorities.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

State-of-the-art compute infrastructure is critical to unlock advances in research and innovation, with diverse applications from drug design through to energy security and extreme weather modelling, benefiting communities across the UK. 

This next phase of investment, located at Edinburgh, will help to keep the UK at the forefront of emerging technologies and facilitate the collaborations needed to explore and develop game-changing insights across disciplines.

Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, said:

We have already seen the vital work being carried out by ARCHER2 in Edinburgh and this new exascale system, backed by the UK government, will keep Scotland at the forefront of science and innovation. As well as supporting researchers in their critical work on AI safety this will bring highly skilled jobs to Edinburgh and support economic growth for the region.

The announcement follows the news earlier this month that Bristol will play host to a new AI supercomputer, named Isambard-AI, which will be one of the most powerful for AI in Europe. The cluster will act as part of the national AIResearch Resource (AIRR) to maximise the potential of AI and support critical work around the safe development and use of the technology.

Plans for both the exascale compute and the AIRR were first announced in March, as part of a £900 million investment to upgrade the UK’s next-generation compute capacity, and will deliver on two of the recommendations set out in the independent review into the Future of Compute.

Both announcements come as the UK prepares to host the world’s first AI Safety Summit on 1 and 2 November. The summit will bring together leading countries, technology organisations, academics and civil society to ensure we have global consensus on the risks emerging from the most immediate and rapid advances in AI and how they are managed, while also maximising the benefits of the safe use of the technology to improve lives.

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