SB: EU aims for supercomputing leadership with €9.2bn program

The €9.2 billion ($10.5bn) Digital Europe programme will put the EU in a “better position” than the US and China in high-performance computing (HPC), said Khalil Rouhana, deputy director general for digital affairs, at an event organised by Science|Business to discuss the scope and ambitions of the EU’s proposed investments in digital technologies.

The Digital Europe programme will see the European Commission and member states commit joint resources to procure high tech infrastructure for use throughout the EU, in five areas of supercomputing, artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, digital skills, and digital transformation. The latter refers to promoting wider use of high tech infrastructure by the public sector and setting up innovation hubs where small businesses can access these new technologies.

The Commission is proposing to spend €2.5 billion on AI, €2 billion on cybersecurity, €700 million on digital skills, and €1.3 billion on digital transformation. This is in addition to funds member states are expected to invest.

A total of €2.7 billion, the biggest share of the budget, will be spent on supercomputers. With matched funding from member states, Rouhana said that, “would put us in even better situation than competing regions [for which read the US and China] in terms of investment in supercomputing.”

Europe has a way to go if it is to outpace these rivals. As of last November, 227 of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers were in China and 109 in the US. The UK had 20, France 18, Germany 17, Ireland 12, and Italy six. In total, 92 of the 500 most powerful machines are in Europe

Europe may be lagging behind in the league table of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, but Rouhana claimed the EU is beating the US and China when it comes to spending on quantum computing research. The assertion is based on estimates by market analysts McKinsey that in 2015, global non-classified investments in quantum computing were €1.5 billion, of which €550 million came from the EU, €360 million from the US, and €220 million from China.

But accurate figures on how much is spent on quantum computing in the US and China are hard to come by: both governments have classified programmes and there is significant investment by the private sector.

In 2017, China announced a €8.7 billion investment in the National Laboratory for Quantum Information Services, and at the end of last year, US president Donald Trump signed the National Quantum Initiative Act, which over 2019 – 2023 will provide up to €1.1 billion on top of existing spending.

In comparison, the European Commission has promised to spend €1 billion on quantum computing over ten years. The first €132 million of that was released in November, in the face of criticism the funds will be spread too thinly across too many projects, while the US plan is more focused.

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