Brussels - The European Union announced plans Thursday to invest around 1 billion euros (1.2 billion dollars) to develop its own supercomputer infrastructure, in a bid to keep up with competition from the United States and China.
Supercomputers, which are able to process huge amounts of data in a short time, are used for research in areas ranging from medicine to the management of large-scale disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.
"The engine to power the digital economy"
At present, European scientists have to process their data outside the bloc, threatening "privacy, data protection, commercial trade secrets and ownership of data in particular for sensitive applications," the European Commission said in a statement.
"Supercomputers are the engine to power the digital economy," said commission Vice President Andrus Ansip. "It is a tough race and today the EU is lagging behind: we do not have any supercomputers in the world's top ten," he added.
By 2023, the EU hopes to develop so-called exascale computing capacities capable of processing a billion billion (10 to the power of 18) calculations per second.
This has not yet been achieved anywhere in the world.
As an interim step, the EU plans to buy two state-of-the-art supercomputing machines and several operating at a slightly lower speed. These should be made available to public and private users from 2020.
The project is a joint undertaking, initially including 13 of the EU's 28 member states and the commission, plus participants from academia and industry.
The EU is contributing around 486 million euros (585 million dollars) with a similar amount expected from member states.