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Laurie Clarke

Reporter

Nvidia plans to build the UK’s fastest supercomputer

US chip company Nvidia has announced it will build the UK’s fastest supercomputer, for the use of healthcare researchers using AI to study Covid-19 and other medical challenges.

The so-called “Cambridge-1” is set to debut by the end of this year. It will be capable of delivering more than 400 petaflops of AI performance, and is set to rank 29th in the world in terms of power and be among the most energy efficient.

Nvidia says that it will invest £40 million into the setting up and running of the supercomputer.

“Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI,” said Jensen Huang, founder and CEO of Nvidia. “The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the UK, and further the groundbreaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery.”

Research partners for the project include GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, and researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and gene analysis company Oxford Nanopore Technologies are also poised to benefit from the new supercomputer.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Accelerating drug discovery has never been so important and it is investments like this that can make a real difference in our fight against countless diseases.” He hailed the announcement as “a tremendous vote of confidence in the UK as an international centre for research, AI and innovation”.

“We need to ensure AI researchers have access to the largest and most comprehensive datasets that the NHS has to offer, our clinical expertise, and the required computational infrastructure to make sense of the data,” said Dr. Ian Abbs, chief executive and chief medical officer of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

“This approach is not only necessary, but also the only ethical way to deliver AI in healthcare — more advanced AI means better care for our patients.”

Nvidia recently purchased Cambridge-based chip design company Arm from SoftBank. The deal sparked concerns over whether Nvidia would relocate Arm’s headquarters to the US, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. Critics called for the UK government to step in to block the deal from going through – which it could technically still do. The Arm deal is under scrutiny from the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) too.

Nvidia says that Cambridge-1 will become integrated into a new “AI Centre of Excellence” in Cambridge, in addition to another supercomputer announced last month that will be built in partnership with Arm. These announcements could be seen as a means of reassuring critics that Nvidia is interested in investing and nurturing talent in the UK.