Nvidia today announced plans to build the UK’s largest supercomputer, just weeks after the US tech group tabled a controversial $40bn (£31bn) offer for British chip designer Arm.
The £40m supercomputer — dubbed Cambridge-1 — will be made available to healthcare researchers using artificial intelligence to find cures for a range of medical challenges, including Covid-19.
Unveiling the investment at the company’s GTC 2020 conference today, Nvidia founder and chief executive Jensen Huang said: “Tackling the world’s most pressing challenges in healthcare requires massively powerful computing resources to harness the capabilities of AI.
“The Cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the UK, and further the groundbreaking work being done by the nation’s researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery.”
The US tech giant said Cambridge-1, which is expected to be online by the end of the year, will rank 29th on the list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.
Glaxosmithkline and Astrazeneca will be among the first pharmaceutical giants to be given access to the computer. Researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London and Oxford Nanopore Technologies will also be able to use the technology.
Health secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the announcement, describing it as a “tremendous vote of confidence in the UK as an international centre for research”.
“Accelerating drug discovery has never been so important and it is investments like this that can make a real difference in our fight against countless diseases,” he said.
It comes amid increasing pressure for the government to intervene in Nvidia’s planned $40bn takeover of UK chip giant Arm.
Industry figures and MPs have raised concerns that the deal will rob the UK of its tech golden child, while Arm cofounder Hermann Hauser branded the plans a “disaster”.
However, Nvidia has insisted Arm will remain headquartered in Cambridge.
The US company has also pledged to create an AI centre for excellence in the city that will boast an additional Arm-based supercomputer.
Nvidia today also unveiled plans to create a new type of chip for data centres as it ramps up its challenge on rivals such as Intel.
The multi-year plan will see the company use AI to expand the functions of its chips into tasks such as facial recognition and hack detection.
The proposed data processing unit chips will combine technology acquired through Nvidia’s $6.9bn acquisition of Mellanox Technologies with AI and computing power from Arm.
The firm said companies including Dell and Lenovo plan to integrate the new chips into their computers.