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Spring Statement: government commits £79m to super computing

The Chancellor has unveiled £79m of funding for a new super computer at Edinburgh University that could pave the way for breakthroughs in a number of key fields.

The Treasury expects that the investment, unveiled in the Spring Statement on Tuesday, will lead to major developments in medicine, climate science and aerospace engineering.

“I am told that with the right algorithms it might even be able to come up with a solution to the backstop,” the Chancellor Philip Hammond told MPs.

It comes just under a year after the Catalyst UK unveiled plans to install three new super computers at the universities of Edinburgh, Bristol and Leicester.

The devices are the result of a collaboration between the chip designer Arm, enterprise computing giant HPE and German software firm SUSE, and will play a major role in the technological arms race to develop ever more powerful artificial intelligence.

The Chancellor also unveiled £45m for bioinformatics research in Cambridge, in a boost for the UK’s genomics industry, and £81m for developing cutting-edge laser technology.

In addition to funding for new research, Hammond revealed he had written to the Competition and Markets Authority to request a study of the digital advertising market, which is a recommendation of the Furman Review published earlier on Tuesday.

Commenting on the announcements, TechUK deputy chief executive, Antony Walker, said: “Today’s Spring Statement is inevitably overshadowed by Brexit. The broadly positive economic growth reported, cannot outweigh the fact that the UK risks a chaotic exit from the EU in just in 16 days’ time, which the Chancellor rightly made clear would have very negative consequences for our economy.

“There were some welcome announcements, particularly around new funding for supercomputing and the UK’s approach to immigration and positive words about the need to drive productivity growth. But the Government risks creating the impression that it regards tech as something that needs to be tackled rather than championed.

“At a time when digital firms and investors already face huge uncertainties due to Brexit, pressing ahead with a raft of new, untested and unilateral measures, like the Digital Services Tax, risks undermining confidence.”