In order to catch up in the global computing power race, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to spend 100 million pounds to buy thousands of high-performance artificial intelligence chips.
British government officials are understood to have been in discussions with IT giants such as Nvidia, AMD and Intel to procure chips for a so-called “national AI research resource” as part of Rishi Sunak’s ambition to make the UK a global leader in AI.
The work, led by science funding body UK Research and Innovation, is believed to be in advanced stages of negotiations with Nvidia. The UK will buy 5,000 GPUs from Nvidia, the company’s chips that power artificial intelligence models such as ChatGPT.
According to people familiar with the matter, £100 million has already been disbursed. However, the spending is seen as insufficient to meet the government’s AI ambitions, and officials are urging Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt to allocate more funding in the coming months.
GPUs are a key component in building AI systems like ChatGPT, whose latest version was trained using as many as 25,000 Nvidia chips.
Rishi Sunak outlined plans for the UK to become an AI superpower, but the UK lags badly behind the US and Europe in terms of the computing resources needed to train, test and operate complex models.
A government review published this year criticized the UK for lacking “dedicated AI computing resources”, with fewer than 1,000 high-end Nvidia chips at the disposal of researchers. The report recommends at least 3,000 “top-spec” GPUs be available as soon as possible.
In March, Hunter agreed to set aside 900 million pounds ($1.15 billion) to buy computing resources, although most of the money is expected to go to research and development of traditional supercomputers.
Just over 50 million pounds ($63.7 million) is believed to be allocated to AI resources, but is expected to rise to 70 million to 100 million pounds as the world scrambles for AI-enabled chips (approximately between $89 million and $130 million).
British officials are likely to press the government to reveal more funding in the autumn budget statement, which is likely to be released during the AI safety summit in November.
Last week, media reports said Saudi Arabia had purchased at least 3,000 Nvidia H100 processors, the company’s high-end components used to train artificial intelligence, for $40,000 each. Tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google are also racing to buy tens of thousands of AI chips.
It is unclear what type of chips the UK is negotiating to buy. The GPUs will be used to build an AI research resource that the government hopes will be operational next summer.
In addition, British officials are weighing the merits of “sovereign chatbots”, a publicly funded language model similar to ChatGPT, and looking for ways to facilitate the deployment of artificial intelligence in public services such as the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Although Nvidia’s chips are widely used to train artificial intelligence and are seen as the clear frontrunner, the British government has also been in related discussions with various microchip companies.
Rishi Sunak is promoting the UK as a center for setting global standards for the safe development of artificial intelligence. He has spearheaded plans for the AI Security Summit, which is expected to be held at Bletchley Park, the center of World War II code-breaking. It is hoped that the event will prompt an international agreement between governments and top AI companies to develop the technology.
A government spokesman said: “We are committed to supporting the UK’s thriving computing environment to maintain our global leadership in science, innovation and technology.”
Nvidia declined to comment.