The bleeding edge: In case you haven't noticed, AI technology is all the rage with the kids lately. If it's not Dall-E or Stable Fusion; it's ChatGP, Bart, Bing Chat, or some other company's large language model. Not wanting to get left in the dust, the UK sank a sizable investment into building the next exascale supercomputer.

The UK has announced plans to invest £900 million ($1.1 billion US) in a new supercomputer to create its own GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) AI model. Tentatively dubbed "BritGPT," it will be one of the world's most powerful computing devices, capable of performing over one billion billion simple calculations per second (exaflops). Currently, the only supercomputer built to this scale is "Frontier" at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the US.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the decision Wednesday, saying, "Because AI needs computing horsepower, I today commit around £900m of funding … for an exascale supercomputer."

The Guardian notes that the UK aims to use the supercomputer to develop AI technology it can use across various industries, from healthcare to finance. The nearly £1 billion investment is part of a broader push to establish the UK as a leader in AI technology. Officials and industry leaders fear falling behind in the AI industry, which the US and China currently dominate.

"We think there's a risk that we, in the UK, lose out to the large tech companies, and possibly China, and get left behind … in areas of cybersecurity, of healthcare, and so on," said BT Group's Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Officer Adrian Joseph. "It is a massive arms race that has been around for some time, but the heat has certainly been turned up most recently."

That heat being the recent developments and wide-range releases of OpenAI's ChatGPT and other companies' large language models (LLM). The UK government has already invested heavily in R&D and initiatives to support the growth of AI-related businesses in the country.

One of the critical features of BritGPT will be its ability to process vast amounts of data quickly and accurately. This power will enable researchers to train AI models more effectively, leading to more accurate predictions and better decision-making. It will also allow companies to analyze large datasets more quickly, improving efficiency and reducing costs.

"[This investment will] allow researchers to better understand climate change, power the discovery of new drugs, and maximize our potential in AI," said a spokesperson for the British Treasury.

The £900 million investment includes £10 million ($12 million US) earmarked for annual AI innovations. Each year for the next ten years, research groups can compete for a £1 million award the Treasury dubbed the "Manchester Prize," named after the Manchester Baby—an early computer built at the University of Manchester in 1948. The grant goes to the most notable AI breakthrough for the year.

Image credit: OLCF at ORNL