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£225 million of funding fuels the creation of the UK's top supercomputer in Bristol

The project highlights the UK's commitment to being at the forefront of AI, writes Victoria Parada-Morant.

By Victoria Parada-Morant, Fourth Year, Epidemiology

Initially announced at Bletchley Park, the UK government will invest £225 million into building the UK's most powerful supercomputer, hosted at the University of Bristol. In the larger £300 million initiative establishing a national Artificial Intelligence Research Resource, this project highlights the UK's commitment to promoting innovation and being at the forefront of AI.

Named in honour of the engineer and industrialist Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Isambard-AI is expected to be the fastest AI supercomputer in the country, being ten times faster than its predecessor. It will be based at the National Composites Centre as one of seven centres within the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. This is a stride forward in the nation's capabilities in AI research and development, and a success for the University of Bristol. The University will host Isambard-3 in early 2024. This could potentially lead to developments in drug research, robotics, data analytics, and much needed climate change models.

A mockup of Isambard-AI | Colin Dalton

Isambard-AI will not be alone as The University of Cambridge’s Dawn supercomputer will be linked to it once both are completed. This partnership will augment the UK’s AI capabilities and allow both universities to work with different corporate partners and enhance each other's supercomputer’s capabilities. Under the direction of esteemed Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith and Dr. Sadaf Alam, the initiative is also in partnership with the GW4 consortium of academic institutions, comprising the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, and Exeter. 

Isambard-AI will focus on AI safety research and national security, with special access for the government's Frontier AI Taskforce to address risks including biowarfare and cyberattacks. The UK aims to lead in safely implementing frontier AI models, as stated by Science, Innovation, and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan. 

Isambard-AI is setting an example in environmental sustainability. The advanced liquid cooling system is more energy efficient than a conventional air cooling system. Moreover, heat that is generated from the supercomputer is used in buildings that are close by, illustrating a balance in using the advanced technology while being environmentally conscious. This is an initiative that enhances energy saving but also a progressive step towards sustainable computing in the era of high powered technology. 

Featured image: National Composites Site (NCC)

Which problems would you use Isambard-AI to solve?