European Union wants to spend €1bn on supercomputers

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The European Commission has unveiled its plans to invest around 1 billion Euros in European supercomputing infrastructure through a new legal and funding structure - EuroHPC. "We can not risk being dependent on third countries for these computers", she said.

To give you an idea of how far behind, China has the world's fastest supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight, with 93 petaflops (93 million billion floating point operations per second) of computing power. These machines would help the European Union stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of China, the USA and Japan.

13 countries have formally signed up to the initiative, launched in March previous year, to develop computers that can perform at least a hundred quadrillion (that's a million billion) calculations per second.

A total of 13 countries have signed up for the plan: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, and non-EU Switzerland.

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Clifton did, however, tell Bloomberg that the United Kingdom has been taking "an active part in development" and whether the country would sign up to the initiative "is an open question".

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, said it would contribute around 486 million euros ($580 million) to the project. The exascale computer is expected to be capable of achieving one quintillion calculations per second.

Simon McIntosh-Smith, a professor specialising in high-performance computing at the University of Bristol, told Bloomberg: "Brexit has thrown a lot of uncertainty around the U.K.'s participation and it is really unfortunate and causing delay and confusion".

The proposal, which will be financed by the commission in conjunction with the signed-up member states, is "crucial for the EU's competitiveness and independence in the data economy", according to the press statement, published on Thursday 11 January. "Furthermore, we wish to jointly build a pre-access scale infrastructure, which will be among the most advanced in the world", Gabriel said.

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The move has been marked as a step forward in the European ambitions to be competitive and independent in the global data economy, with the Gaggle of Red-tapers looking to bring work back into the continent. They can help us to develop personalised medicine, save energy and fight against climate change more efficiently.

The four computers that result from this first phase will be made available to businesses and research groups across Europe, said the Commission.

European scientists and industry risk yielding secrets or sensitive information as they increasingly process data outside the EU to perform tasks in the absence of the best supercomputers, the commission said.

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