European Union invests in 'supercomputers'

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The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking aims to acquire systems with pre-exascale performance (a hundred million billion or 10 calculations per second), and support the development of exascale (a billion billion or 10 calculations per second), performance systems based on European Union technology, by 2022-2023.

The world's current fastest supercomputers are about a thousand times slower than this target.

The European Commission has unveiled plans to spend 1bn euros creating "world class" supercomputers.

The Sunway TaihuLight and Tianhe-2 (Milkyway-2), which are the fastest super computers according to the website's ranking, are also situated in China. To-date, 13 countries have done so - Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. The UK is yet to formally join the initiative.

Alastair Clifton, a spokesman for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, told the outlet the United Kingdom has been "taking an active part in development of it and are working on future plans of it", but declined to say why the country hasn't yet signed up to the initiative, saying it remains "an open question" for the future.

There will also be two "mid-range systems", which will be able to handle tens of millions of billions of calculations per second.

The European Commission, the EU's executive branch, said it would contribute around 486 million euros ($580 million) to the project.

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"Other Member States and associated countries are encouraged to sign the EuroHPC declaration", the release states. A lot of them run on Linux operating systems.

The four computers that result from this first phase will be made available to businesses and research groups across Europe, said the Commission.

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.

"Supercomputers are the engine to power the digital economy", said Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market in a statement.

"We do not have any supercomputers in the world's top ten", he said.

"With the EuroHPC (European High-Performance Computing) initiative we want to give European researchers and companies world-leading supercomputer capacity by 2020 - to develop technologies such as artificial intelligence".

The move has been marked as a step forward in the European ambitions to be competitive and independent in the global data economy, with the Gaggle of Red-tapers looking to bring work back into the continent.