Mar 16, 2020 - Technology

White House seeks AI help in answering coronavirus questions

Members of the press have their temperatures taken before a COVID-19 briefing at the White House.
A White House official takes temperatures ahead of a press briefing. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

The White House on Monday called on artificial intelligence experts to help the scientific community answer key questions about the novel coronavirus.

The big picture: Researchers and companies created a dataset of academic literature of more than 29,000 articles about the COVID-19 illness, the virus behind it and related pathogens. Now the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy wants experts to mine that data to quickly answer questions about the pandemic.

Details: Those questions are available on the Google-owned data machine learning community Kaggle. They include:

  • "What is known about transmission, incubation, and environmental stability?"
  • "What has been published about medical care?"
  • "What do we know about COVID-19 risk factors?"
  • "What do we know about non-pharmaceutical interventions?"

To source and compile the articles, OSTP got help from the Allen Institute for AI, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Microsoft, and the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health.

"It's difficult for people to manually go through more than 20,000 articles and synthesize their findings. Recent advances in technology can be helpful here. We're putting machine readable versions of these articles in front of our community of more than 4 million data scientists. Our hope is that AI can be used to help find answers to a key set of questions about COVID-19."
— Anthony Goldbloom, co-founder and CEO of Kaggle, in a statement

What's next: People can submit initial answers to the questions through April 16. There will be a second round of submissions, which may cover additional questions, running through June 16.

  • Kaggle will award $1,000 for the best answer to each question, as judged by a committee of subject matter experts. The winner can donate the prize to COVID-19 relief and research efforts or take it in cash.

The bottom line: The vast body of research around the novel coronavirus and related pathogens may be hiding answers to vital questions, and this effort is meant to find them, including by connecting dots that may otherwise go unconnected.

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