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 computer.

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 pressing challenges 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.

“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,” said Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan.

“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.”

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 the country’s current top-end system, ARCHER2, which is also housed in Edinburgh.

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. 

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“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.”

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. 

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The cluster will act as part of the national AI Research 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.

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