Edinburgh has been selected to host a new exascale facility, capable of producing a supercomputer with the potential to help develop artificial intelligence (AI), medicine, and clean low-carbon energy.

Exascale computing refers to a measure of supercomputer performance known as exascale, a threshold of a quintillion calculations per second.

In April 2023, the UK government announced plans to invest £100m to develop AI foundation models to bolster the country’s capabilities in the field.

Exascale allows improved prediction accuracy and has applications for weather forecasting, climate modelling and medicine. Exascale is also capable of reaching the estimated processing power of the human brain.

The exascale system hosted at the University of Edinburgh will be able to support research into AI safety and development.

Science, innovation and technology secretary Michelle Donelan said: 

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“If we want the UK to remain a global leader in scientific discovery and technological innovation, we need to power up the systems that make those breakthroughs possible.”

Computing power is measured in ‘flops,’ floating point operations, which means the number of arithmetic calculations that a computer can perform every second. 

An exascale system will be 50 times more powerful than the current top-end system, ARCHER2, which is also housed in Edinburgh.

UK Research and Innovation chief executive professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

“State-of-the-art compute infrastructure is critical to unlock advances in research and innovation, with diverse applications from drug design through to energy security and extreme weather modelling, benefiting communities across the UK. 

“This next phase of investment, located at Edinburgh, will help to keep the UK at the forefront of emerging technologies and facilitate the collaborations needed to explore and develop game-changing insights across disciplines.”

The announcement follows the news earlier this month that Bristol will play host to a new AI supercomputer, named Isambard-AI, which will be one of the most powerful AI systems in Europe.

The cluster will act as part of the national AI Research Resource (AIRR) to maximise the potential of AI.

Plans for both the exascale computer and the AIRR were first announced in March, as part of a £900m investment to upgrade the UK’s next-generation compute capacity.

Both announcements come as the UK prepares to host the world’s first AI Safety Summit in November.