The UK government is set to invest £900m in a cutting-edge supercomputer as part of its new artificial intelligence (AI) strategy. The investment comes on the heels of the recent explosion of interest in AI, driven by the release of large language models such as OpenAI's ChatGPT.

The government plans to build an exascale computer that is several times more powerful than the largest computers currently in the UK and establish a new AI research body. The proposed investment will enable researchers to better understand climate change, discover new drugs, and maximize the country's potential in AI.

What is an exascale computer?

An exascale computer is a type of supercomputer that’s capable of performing more than one billion billion simple calculations per second, which is measured in exaflops. This level of computing power is several times more powerful than the largest computers currently available in the UK. Currently, only one such machine exists, Frontier, which is located at America's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and is used for scientific research.

Exascale computers are essential for training complex AI models, as well as for other applications in science, industry, and defense. The UK government's proposed investment in an exascale computer is a significant step towards advancing AI research and development in the country. The machine will be instrumental in modeling weather forecasts and climate projections. The government believes that the £900m investment will lead to better insights into climate change, discovering new drugs, and maximizing the UK's potential in AI.

Britain’s answer to ChatGPT?

The UK government also recognizes the importance of large language models, the technology behind chatbots like OpenAI's chatGPT and Google's Bard, which has yet to be released to the public. The government will establish a task force to promote UK sovereign capability in foundation models, including large language models.

The proposed investment in AI is a response to concerns raised by MPs who warned the UK that it risked falling behind in areas such as healthcare and cybersecurity if it didn't invest in large language models. Adrian Joseph, BT's chief data and AI officer, expressed concerns that the UK would lose out to major tech companies and China in the AI "arms race."

To further encourage AI research, the UK government will award a £1m prize every year for the next 10 years for the most groundbreaking AI research. The award will be called the Manchester Prize, in honor of the Manchester Baby, a forerunner of the modern computer built at the University of Manchester in 1948.

In addition to the proposed investment in AI, the UK government plans to invest £2.5bn in quantum technologies over the next decade. Quantum computing is based on quantum physics, which explores how subatomic particles work. Quantum computers can process vast numbers of different outcomes, making them an essential tool for scientific research and development.