AI Summit Speakers Urge Next UK Leaders to Sustain AI Investments

AI leaders urge the next government to match the current administration's investments in infrastructure and research

Ben Wodecki, Jr. Editor

June 13, 2024

3 Min Read
From left to right: Matt Harris, Simon McIntosh-Smith and David Hogan.
Ben Wodecki

With the U.K. in the middle of a general election, speakers at the AI Summit London urged the country's next leaders to maintain the current administration's commitment to AI.

The government under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak boosted funding for AI initiatives and hosted the inaugural Safety Summit just last November. However, opinion polls suggest Sunak's Conservative Party faces an uphill battle against the opposition Labor Party. 

Matt Harris, managing director for HPE in the U.K. Ireland, the Middle East and Africa, said that regardless of which party assumes power, AI should remain a focal point. 

“We have to applaud the government's current focus on AI and hope the next administration continues to bring the same level of investment to the sector,” Harris said.

Despite the praise for their focus, Harris and other speakers at the event said the U.K. was being out-spent by rival nations also looking to take advantage of the interest in AI.

David Hogan, Nvidia’s vice president for enterprise in EMEA said the U.K.’s AI investment was “relatively small” compared to countries in the Middle East, North America and Asia.

“One of the biggest challenges I think the development of AI faces is that other economies are seeing the opportunity and investing and investing in scale,” Hogan said. “We need to think about how we react to that and how we can help the industries and enterprises in the U.K. and Europe identify how they can take advantage of that and scale to remain competitive internationally.”

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One area the Sunak administration provided funding for was an expansion of the country’s AI infrastructure, including $272 million to build the U.K.’s fastest supercomputer, Isambard-AI.

Professor Simon McIntosh-Smith, director of the University of Bristol’s Center for Supercomputing and one of the architects behind Isambard said before the investment, access to AI infrastructure was hard to come by.

“We had very few GPU clusters around the U.K., maybe 100 previous generation GPUs, and that was it,” McIntosh-Smith said. “Most of those were being used for other kinds of workloads like high-performance computing, they weren't dedicated to AI. We knew there was going to be an opportunity with new funding to build some new resources.”

The resulting supercomputer is only partially finished – phase one came online in May – but it’s already proving value for money after it ranked second on the Top500 list for the world’s greenest supercomputer.

The supercomputer entered the Top 500 performance rankings at number 128 but when it’s finished, McIntosh-Smith believes it’ll crack the top 10.

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“It’s competitive on the international stage, we're going to be able to do things like train a large language model from scratch. This is something that today just couldn't be done in the U.K.,” the professor said. “That feels like it's an important sovereign capability to bring into the country.”

Isambard was built at super speed – residing in the university’s car park, the team behind it put it together in just 48 hours, leveraging smart coolers that allow for low-energy air to run through the unit, keeping it cool and using less energy.

“You cannot do that even if we were modifying an existing building, you could not do this quickly,” McIntosh-Smith said. “These approaches let you be much more agile, move really fast and maybe turn locations that you wouldn't have thought of like a bit of your car park into supercomputers.”

The supercomputer isn’t just reserved for academic work. The university professor revealed that from early next year, enterprises can apply to use it for research purposes.

[The government] wants to be able to ring-fence some of the time on Isambard for U.K. companies,”  McIntosh-Smith said. “Businesses can apply to use it [but] this will focus more on SMEs and startups.”

Investment concerns aside, Hogan said the U.K. benefits from having a “vibrant” AI startup community and “some of the best compute schools in the world.”

Read more about:

AI Summit London 2024

About the Author(s)

Ben Wodecki

Jr. Editor

Ben Wodecki is the Jr. Editor of AI Business, covering a wide range of AI content. Ben joined the team in March 2021 as assistant editor and was promoted to Jr. Editor. He has written for The New Statesman, Intellectual Property Magazine, and The Telegraph India, among others. He holds an MSc in Digital Journalism from Middlesex University.

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