The UK government has announced it will spend £225-million ($273-million) to build one of the world’s fastest AI supercomputers.
Called Isambard-AI, it’s the latest in a series of systems named after legendary 19th century British engineer Isambard Brunel and hosted by the University of Bristol. When fully installed next year, it will pack 5 448 Nvidia GH200 Grace Hopper Superchips to deliver 21 exaflops of AI performance for researchers across the country and beyond.
The announcement was made at the AI Safety Summit, a gathering of over 100 global government and technology leaders held in Bletchley Park, the site of the world’s first digital programmable computer, which reflected the work of innovators like Alan Turing, considered the father of AI.
AI “will bring a transformation as far-reaching as the industrial revolution, the coming of electricity or the birth of the internet”, says British prime minister Rishi Sunak.
Propelling the modern economy
Like one of Brunel’s creations — the first propeller-driven, ocean-going iron ship — the AI technology running on his namesake is already driving countries forward.
AI contributes more than £3,7-billion to the U.K. economy and employs more than 50 000 people, says Michelle Donelan, the nation’s Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary.
The investment in the so-called AI Research Resource in Bristol “will catalyse scientific discovery and keep the UK at the forefront of AI development”, she says.
Like AI itself, the system will be used across a wide range of organisations tapping the potential of machine learning to advance robotics, data analytics, drug discovery, climate research and more.
“Isambard-AI represents a huge leap forward for AI computational power in the UK,” says Simon McIntosh-Smith, a Bristol professor and director of the Isambard National Research Facility. “Today, Isambard-AI would rank within the top 10 fastest supercomputers in the world and, when in operation later in 2024, it will be one of the most powerful AI systems for open science anywhere.”
The next manufacturing revolution
Like the industrial revolution, AI promises advances in manufacturing. That’s one reason why Isambard-AI will be based at the National Composites Centre (NCC) in the Bristol and Bath Science Park, one of the country’s seven manufacturing research centers.
The UK’s Frontier AI Taskforce, a research group leading a global effort on how frontier AI can be safely developed, will also be a major user of the system.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which is building Isambard-AI, is also collaborating with the University of Bristol on energy-efficiency plans that support net-zero carbon targets mandated by the British government.
A second system coming next year to the NCC will show Arm’s energy efficiency for non-accelerated high performance computing workloads.
Isambard-3 will deliver an estimated 2,7-petaflops of FP64 peak performance and consume less than 270kw of power, ranking it among the world’s three greenest non-accelerated supercomputers. That’s because the system — part of a research alliance among universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter — will sport 384 Arm-based Nvidia Grace CPU Superchips to power medical and scientific research.
“Isambard-3’s application performance efficiency of up to 6x its predecessor, which rivals many of the 50 fastest TOP500 systems, will provide scientists with a revolutionary new supercomputing platform to advance groundbreaking research,” says Bristol’s McIntosh-Smith.