AIRR received £300 million to launch first phase of new AI Research Resource

AIRR, a cluster of advanced computers for AI research, has received a £300 million investment, to include a new Cambridge-based supercomputer. This triples the £100 million investment outlined in the government’s 2023 Spring Budget to deliver a dedicated AI Research Resource (AIRR).

Nov 7, 2023 - 01:56
Jan 28, 2024 - 07:48
AIRR received £300 million to launch first phase of new AI Research Resource
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The investment was announced by the UK Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, on the first day of the government’s AI Safety Summit. The AI Safety Summit considers the risks of artificial intelligence (AI) and discuss their mitigation through internationally coordinated action.

This triples the £100 million investment outlined in the government’s 2023 Spring Budget to deliver a dedicated AI Research Resource (AIRR). This follows the recommendation by the Future of Compute Review, which was also announced alongside plans for a new national exascale facility.

It will also support a Bristol based computing facility in a bid to further cement the UK’s place as a world leader in AI and to open doors to a wave of new UK-based AI discoveries and innovations.

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Crucial research

AIRR is a national facility recently announced in March by the government that will provide world-leading AI-specialised compute capacity to public researchers, academia, and industry.

AIRR is a landmark collaboration between:

  • the UK government
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • the University of Cambridge
  • the University of Bristol
  • Intel
  • Dell

The Dawn supercomputer at the University of Cambridge, announced as part of this latest investment, will serve as an integral part of the AIRR alongside the previously announced University of Bristol Isambard-AI supercomputer.

This will allow the UK to maximise the benefits of AI and supporting critical work into frontier risk mitigation and the potential and safe use of the technology.

Cutting-edge technology

Over a thousand top-end Intel graphics processing units, or GPUs, will be installed as part of the Dawn cluster. Dawn will be fully operational by the end of this year, at which point it will be the UK’s largest public AI compute cluster by a significant margin.

The previously announced Isambard-AI system in Bristol forms the other part of the AIRR programme. It will comprise of over 5,000 state of the art GPUs and be operational in summer 2024.

When the entire AIRR programme is fully operational, Isambard-AI will be the UK’s most powerful supercomputer, and Dawn will be the UK’s second-most powerful system.

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Together, these facilities will provide at least a thirty-fold increase to the UK’s AI supercomputing capacity.

Unlocking potential

Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

The UK is already leading the way in global action on the safe and responsible development of frontier AI, and by turbocharging our public AI compute capacity our researchers, academia and industry can truly maximise the potential of the technology in the safest way possible.

The Dawn cluster will be another catalyst of scientific discovery and innovation in our world-leading AI Research Resource and will cement our place as a world-leader in AI safety.

Highly accessible

A revolutionary collaboration between UKRI, the University of Cambridge and the Bristol-based technology small and medium-sized enterprises StackHPC, called Scientific Openstack, will connect the Bristol and Cambridge supercomputers together through a cloud-based service layer. This means they can be concurrently accessed by researchers.

This new national facility and supercomputer is set to underpin the UK’s next-generation AI infrastructure, in line with the sixth recommendation of the independent Future of Compute Review, published in March of this year.

The UK’s Frontier AI Taskforce is an AI research team working to evaluate the risk at the frontier of AI. The team will have priority access to AIRR, where they will lead the global effort to research how frontier AI can be safely developed.

Promising future

Tom Griffin, Director of Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Scientific Computing (part of UKRI), and UKRI lead for AIRR, said:

The launch of the AI Research Resource Phase 1 marks the beginning of an essential new era for AI research in the UK.

AI could well transform society as much as the industrial revolution or the dawn of the information age, and if we are going to keep pace with this change, we must equip UK scientists with the tools to explore and advance this burgeoning new field.

UKRI and STFC are proud to support this world leading supercomputing resource and the exciting research across the UK that it will facilitate.

Digital research infrastructure

AIRR is a key component of UKRI’s digital research infrastructure. This system is designed to connect researchers, policymakers and innovators to the computers, data, tools, techniques and skills that underpin the most ambitious and creative research.

This digital research infrastructure also includes the new Exascale supercomputer service announced alongside AIRR by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the Spring Budget.

The University of Edinburgh was recently announced as the preferred location of the first phase of the new exascale service.

Top image:  Credit: Jian Fan, iStock, Getty Images Plus v

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