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UK gov taps Google’s Ghahramani to head ‘Future of Compute’ review

Review will report 'later this year' on how gov't should encourage compute development.

The UK government’s “Future of Compute” review will be headed up by Zoubin Ghahramani, director of Google Brain and professor at Cambridge University.

The review will look at the UK’s compute needs over the next decade, and is tasked with bringing a set of policy recommendations to ensure the country can maintain access to the computing power it will need. Chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the review, and announced Ghahramani’s appointment, at his opening address at London Tech Week.

This review also forms the first plank in the government’s “Digital Strategy” for the UK, which was also due to be announced on Monday 13 June. The government also released a report showing the UK was responsible for more tech “unicorns” than anywhere except the US and China.

See also: Google poaches chip guru from IBM to lead its “next-gen” CPU

Ghahramani joined Google in 2020, and is VP of research, along with his position at Google Brain, the ad giant’s deep-learning AI research team. Previously Ghahramani was chief scientist and VP for AI at Uber for nearly four years, and has held his professorship at Cambridge since 2006. He also has appointments at UCL and the Alan Turing Institute, and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2015.

The Future of Compute review will report to both the chancellor, who is well-known for his enthusiasm for technology, and to secretary of state for DCMS, Nadine Dorries, who is not. Sunak said the review panel would report “later this year”.

“Rather than analysing compute as simply a system for research, this review will view compute as a strategic, all-encompassing resource. With that lens, we should ask what our compute needs will be in the next decade across the entire economy and how we should meet them,” said the Future of Compute review’s terms of reference.

The review will build on 2021’s “Large-scale Computing” report from the Government Office for Science. That report concluded there was a “strong case for continued public investment” in computing – but that improved planning and collaboration was needed.

Along with considering general issues such as access, provision, design and security, the Future of Compute review will also look at which sectors will most need access to greater computing power – and what role government could and should play.

“Is there a rationale for government intervention in compute markets? If so, what government intervention is necessary in the compute ecosystem and how does this compare to approaches taken internationally? What model should potential intervention take: government-sponsored provision; market intervention; or another form?” said the review’s terms of reference.

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Quoted in a press release announcing the Future of Compute review, Ghahramani said: “The UK’s ability to do the hardest science, and help businesses be even more competitive, depends on more powerful computers. Advanced compute helps us model incredibly complex systems, such as what’s happening to the climate and how to stop the spread of pandemics.

“Advanced compute is fundamental to the UK’s national interest. This review will deliver a long term plan for UK compute, enabling government, business and academia to remain at the forefront of innovation and be prepared to fight the biggest challenges of this century,” he added.