Swiss AI Initiative: Universities Work to Position Switzerland as Trustworthy AI Hub

Swiss AI Initiative: Universities Work to Position Switzerland as Trustworthy AI Hub

by December 7, 2023

ETH Zurich and EPFL are launching the “Swiss AI Initiative”, whose purpose is to position Switzerland as a leading global hub for the development and implementation of transparent and reliable artificial intelligence (AI).

The new Alps supercomputer based at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) provides the supporting world-​class infrastructure.

In spring 2024 the new Alps supercomputer goes live at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) of ETH Zurich in Lugano. Boasting the next generation of more than 10,000 graphics processing units (GPUs), Alps is one of the world’s most powerful computers for applications in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). This new computer gives Swiss scientists access to the sort of computing power only available to the world’s biggest tech companies.

Rolex Learning Center

The AI-​supported photomontage shows the “Rolex Learning Center” of EPFL and the main building of ETH Zurich. (Image: ETH Zurich)

Technological edge to protect Switzerland’s digital sovereignty

The new supercomputer therefore gives Switzerland a significant competitive advantage over international rivals. This is because the infrastructure for supercomputing is in short supply worldwide due to the rapid development of generative AI and – where available – is mostly owned by a handful of large multinationals.

Christian Wolfrum

Christian Wolfrum

“Through this joint initiative we want to exploit our advantage as a location and make Switzerland’s expertise in artificial intelligence transferrable to society as a whole,”

explains Christan Wolfrum, ETH Vice President for Research.

“Science must assume a pioneering role in such a forward-​looking field, rather than leaving it to a few multinational corporations. Only in this way can we guarantee independent research and Switzerland’s digital sovereignty.”

Transparency and Open Source

The aim of the initiative is to develop and train new large language models (LLM). These must be transparent, deliver comprehensible results and ensure legal, ethical and scientific criteria are met. “Unlike the large language models that are usually available in the public domain today, the Swiss AI Initiative strongly emphasized transparency and Open Source. Everyone must be able to understand how the models were trained, the sort of data used, and how results are recovered,” stresses Jan Hesthaven, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at EPFL.

To develop such models, the Swiss AI Initiative will use ten million GPU hours on the new Alps computer over the next 12 months, equivalent to the computing power of a single GPU running at full load for over 1,100 years. Switzerland is therefore the first country in the world to operate a research infrastructure on the next-​generation NVIDIA Grace Hopper Superchip.

Swiss AI Initiative already up and running

This additional computing capacity will be used to develop new, industry-​specific AI base models for use in different areas such as robotics, medicine, climate sciences or diagnostics. In addition, the Initiative will also explore fundamental questions in the development and use of LLM models, such as: What form will future interaction between humans and AI take? What is the appropriate ethical framework? How do we manage security and data privacy? What new approaches can be used to scale up models and make them more energy efficient?

ETH Zurich and EPFL operate their own AI centres that will work closely together in future, along with the Swiss Data Science Center, to conduct world-​class interdisciplinary AI research. This initiative aims to pool the specialist knowledge of around a dozen Swiss universities, technical universities and research institutes. Over the past few months over 75 professors from all over Switzerland have signed up to the initiative. In addition, other international researchers have also been invited to work together on the development of multilingual, cross-​border open source LLMs. ETH Zurich and EPFL are already members of ELLIS, the European network of AI excellence, which incudes some 40 AI hot spots in Europe.