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Bristol to home UK’s ‘most powerful’ supercomputer for AI research

Bristol supercomputer
Image credit: Sion Hannuna / Shutterstock

Bristol is set to become home to a new supercomputer that will be the “most powerful” in the UK as part of government plans to boost innovation in AI.

The AI Research Resource (AIRR) will be built at the University of Bristol and comprise “thousands” of graphics processing units (GPUs).

The supercomputer will be used to train large language models, the subset of artificial intelligence deployed in systems like advanced chatbot ChatGPT.

Michelle Donelan, the tech secretary, said it will be “one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe”.

It has been dubbed Isambard-AI after Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer behind the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

“AI is expected to be as important as the steam age, with ramifications across almost every area of academia and industry,” said Professor Phil Taylor, pro-vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Bristol.

It will become one of two supercomputers in the city, with plans for “Isambard 3” to be installed later this year for AI research.

Simon McIntosh-Smith, Professor of high-performance computing 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.”

The announcement comes as part of the government’s £900m for supercomputers, announced in March in the Spring Budget.

However, there have been concerns that the project would be hampered by a lack of electricity for the grid to power the supercomputer’s GPUs, according to The Telegraph.

It’s not the only planned supercomputer in the UK, with work beginning earlier this year to build £30m supercomputer centre in Cheshire.

It comes amid a wider government push to make the UK an international hub for AI. Earlier this year, the government launched an AI taskforce made up of experts and business leaders. Britain’s AI safety summit is set to take place in November at Bletchley Park.