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Nvidia Gives Health Researchers Access to $100-Million Cambridge-1 Supercomputer in UK


Nvidia is launching the $100 million Cambridge-1, the most powerful supercomputer in the United Kingdom, and it is making it available to external researchers in the U.K. health care industry.

The machine will be used for AI research in health care, and it’s one of the world’s fastest supercomputers. Nvidia will make it available to accelerate research in digital biology, genomics, and quantum computing.

"They can use the technology to finetune the molecules for aspects they care about, like binding to proteins or making them safe for human consumption," Kimberly Powell, vice president and general manager of Nvidia's healthcare business, said in an interview.

Nvidia is collaborating with AstraZeneca, maker of one of the COVID-19 vaccines, to fuel faster drug discoveries and creating a transformer-based generative AI model for chemical structures. Transformer-based neural network architectures, which have become available only in the last several years, allow researchers to leverage massive datasets using self-supervised training methods, avoiding the need for manually labeled examples during pre-training.

Kimberly Powell, vice president of healthcare at Nvidia, said that AstraZeneca, GSK, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London, and Oxford Nanopore Technologies (ONT) are using the supercomputer to develop a deeper understanding of brain diseases like dementia, using AI to design new drugs, and improve the accuracy of finding disease-causing variations in human genomes.

“This is an Nvidia industrial supercomputer owned and operated by Nvidia, and it’s the first one that we’re opening up to public use,” Powell said. “We believe that there is a massive opportunity in the area of health as all the stars have aligned. We’ve been working on simulations for 15 years and AI is having a rapid amount of progress. We know how to build these computers and use them to their maximum capacity better than anyone in the world. And some of the world’s best researchers are in health care.”

The move is among the steps Nvidia is taking to show a commitment to the United Kingdom as it works to complete its $40 billion acquisition of Arm from Japan's SoftBank. British antitrust regulators are scrutinising the deal, which would transfer ownership of one of the country's technological crown jewels from one foreign entity to another.

In conjunction with the deal, Nvidia has said it also plans to build a supercomputing centre in the United Kingdom using Arm-designed chips.

If it is successful, the Cambridge-1 could be a model for other industries or supercomputers in other regions as well. It’s like a reference design or showroom where Nvidia can show off the best of its technology and get more people to adopt it, Powell said.

Powell said that Nvidia’s CUDA designs and graphics processing unit technology have enabled Moore’s law to progress a million times over the past decade, rather than just a thousand times if Moore’s law was left to itself with the normal evolution of chips. AI models have also grown at an exponential rate with the success of network architectures and the ability to train large language models.

“Over the last 15 years, we’ve literally increased the progress of modeling computational biology by 10 million times,” Powell said. “So that rate of progress is what we’re calling the super exponential. And that gives a sense of why this is applicable in the area of biology and health. And so being able to have this level of computing to work with the leaders in the health care industry is what the supercomputer is all about.”