British computer scientists are worried about missing out on the benefits of a new initiative to build supercomputers in Europe, because of Brexit.
13 countries have formally signed up to the initiative, launched in March last year, to develop computers that can perform at a least a hundred quadrillion (that's a million billion) calculations per second.
The goal of the EuroHPC project is to build two such ‘world-class' machines, with at least two mid-range systems that can perform tens of quadrillions calculations, by 2020. The EU is spending €1 billion on the project, in an effort to catch up with similar schemes in the USA, China and Japan and keep sensitive data in Europe.
These computers will act as a stepping stone to progress towards the ultimate goal of a next-gen ‘exascale' system, which could perform at least a quintillion calculations each second - and yes, that's a billion billion.
The EU will put €486 million towards the project by 2020, with a similar figure being sourced from other member states and ‘associated countries'. So far Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland have signed up to be part of the scheme. Private entities are also able to make contributions.
But where's the UK?
The United Kingdom has still not formally signed on to EuroHPC, and scientists have expressed concerns.
Alastair Clifton, a spokesman for the UK's Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which looks after the government's science budget, did not say why the UK had not signed the declaration.
Clifton did, however, tell Bloomberg that the UK has been taking "an active part in development" and whether the country would sign up to the initiative "is an open question."
Simon McIntosh-Smith, a professor of high-performance computing at the University of Bristol, said, "Brexit has thrown a lot of uncertainty around the UK's participation and it is really unfortunate and causing delay and confusion."
Mark Parsons of the University of Edinburgh said that it would make much more sense for the UK to work on supercomputer development with other countries, and that a lot of the viability would depend on the country's political status post-Brexit.
"Associated countries [like Switzerland and Norway] can participate in the research programs just like a member state," Parsons said. However, research teams from so-called third countries, like Canada, cannot receive EU funding even though they can bid to take part in projects.
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