Can supercomputers give Europe an edge in the AI race?

17 Nov 2023

Image: © wetzkaz/

Ursula von der Leyen said that increasing access to the three supercomputers in the EU will help AI start-ups and SMEs compete globally.

EU leaders are pushing to make Europe’s supercomputers more accessible to start-ups and SMEs developing artificial intelligence to give them an edge in the global AI race.

In a statement yesterday (16 November), the Commission and the European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking said that they are committed to “open and widen access” to the three supercomputers currently available in the EU.

The idea is to help start-ups, SMEs and the broader AI community to develop and scale AI models and accelerate AI training and testing. Access to a supercomputer can reduce the time taken to do this from “months or years” to a matter of weeks.

“Europe is a leader in supercomputing, thanks to the investments we made in recent years. We have three state-of-the-art supercomputers in the EU. And we need to put this power to use,” said Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

“The access to Europe’s supercomputing infrastructure that we are announcing today will help start-ups lead the development and scale up of artificial intelligence in a responsible manner, and in line with European values.”

The latest statement was made in the context of the fourth AI Alliance Assembly in Madrid. It is part of a push by the bloc to catch up with the rest of the world, particularly the US and China, in the development of AI that is set to disrupt almost every industry at some level.

Figures reported by Crunchbase in August showed that European venture capital funding in the second quarter of 2023 was half of what it was last year. AI investment, however, was an outlier.

According to the data, European AI companies raised $1.5bn in the second quarter, representing 12pc of the continent’s total funding.

London-based companies stood out in the AI space. Large rounds were raised by AI applications development platform, intelligence platform for banking and insurance Quantexa and AI-powered video platform Synthesia.

Last week, Aleph Alpha, a German start-up that provides generative AI to businesses and governments, announced it raised more than $500m in its latest Series B funding round, making it one of the fastest growing and most valued AI start-ups in Europe.

Large AI challenge

Internal markets chief Thierry Breton said supercomputing is an “essential brick” of Europe’s technological sovereignty.

“Our European leadership in high-performance computing – built through decades of vision, experience and investment – will now translate in scientific, technological and business competitiveness,” he said.

To that end, the EU has launched a Large AI Grand Challenge with the aim to give start-ups with experience in large-scale AI models access to European supercomputers.

Up to four challenge winners are expected to release the developed models under an open source licence for non-commercial use, or through publishing their research findings. Prize money of €1m will be distributed among the winners also.

“With today’s Large AI Grand Challenge, we open up our world-leading supercomputers to train and finetune the most advanced foundation AI models,” Breton said.

“This will help start-ups bring down the training time for their latest AI models from several months to days or weeks – massively boosting our competitiveness in the world of AI.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic