UK and IBM Announce AI and Quantum Computing Centre

The UK and the tech giant invest in the future of cutting-edge tech with a £210 million five-year programme.

By Joel Davies -

A £210 million five-year programme has launched in the UK, giving the public sector and industry access to cutting-edge computing for innovative research. The new Hartree National Centre for Digital Innovation (HNCDI) aims to bring together world-leading expertise with innovative artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing technology, to benefit industry and the public sector.

The collaboration between the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and IBM will be housed within STFC’s Hartree Centre. The government, via UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has agreed to invest £172 million over five years, met with a £38 million in-kind contribution from IBM.

Science Minister, Amanda Solloway, said: “Artificial intelligence and quantum computing have the potential to revolutionise everything from the way we travel to the way we shop. They are exactly the kind of fields I want the UK to be leading in, and this new centre in the northwest is a big step towards that. Thanks to this fantastic new partnership with IBM, British businesses will have access to the kind of infrastructure and expertise that will help them boost innovation and grow the economy – essential as we build back better from the pandemic”.

The HNCDI says it will support UK businesses and the public sector by reducing the risk of exploring and adopting innovative new digital technologies, such as AI and quantum computing. It will do this by breaking down practical barriers to innovation such as access to infrastructure or digital skills gaps within their organisation. By increasing the pace at which businesses can take advantage of new digital technologies, it’s hoped the collaboration will enhance productivity, create new skilled jobs and boost regional and national economic growth.

Professor Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of STFC, said: “The HNCDI programme will foster discovery and provide a stimulus for industry innovation in the UK. By allowing the industry to access a ready-made community of digital experts and cutting-edge technology, it will provide momentum for new ideas and solutions. This programme has the potential to transform the way the UK industry engages with AI and digital technologies, to the benefit of not just research communities but all of society”.

IBM is no stranger to quantum computing projects. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna (left) and Director of IBM Research Dario Gil are pictured with a  “super-fridge”,  custom-built by IBM to support quantum systems as they scale to the thousands and eventually million-plus qubit systems. Image: Connie Zhou for IBM.

The centre is based at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory in the Liverpool City region and will create vacancies for an additional 60 scientists, plus further interns and students gaining hands-on experience. With £28 million of government investment already agreed for the first year, work is underway to get the centre up and running as soon as possible.

The overall objectives of the centre include turning ideas into practical digital solutions to maximise the benefit for the UK industry, finding the right technologies needed for projects to succeed and make businesses more competitive and to provide training and skills to staff in order to take full advantage of digital technologies.

To boost discovery and develop innovative solutions to practical problems raised by the UK industry, the team of experts will apply AI, high-performance computing and data analytics, quantum computing and cloud technologies. Working across sectors including materials, life sciences, environment, manufacturing, they will also collaborate with academic and industrial research communities.

Possible industry applications from this new programme include optimising complex logistics. For example, picking and packing orders in large warehouses for supermarkets, traffic routing, energy distribution. Also improving design and manufacturing processes across automotive sectors.

Dario Gil, Senior Vice President and Director, IBM Research, said: “The world is facing grand challenges which demand a different approach towards science in computing, including AI and quantum computing, to engage a broad community across industry, government, and academia to accelerate discovery in science and business.

“This partnership establishes our first Discovery Accelerator in Europe driven by our two UK-based IBM Research locations in Hursley and Daresbury as they contribute to our global mission of building discovery-driven communities around the world”.

You can find more information about the UK’s new AI and quantum computing centre on its website.

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