Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A coalition of AI groups is forming to produce a comprehensive data source on the coronavirus pandemic for policymakers and health care leaders.

Why it matters: A torrent of data about COVID-19 is being produced, but unless it can be organized in an accessible format, it will do little good. The new initiative aims to use machine learning and human expertise to produce meaningful insights for an unprecedented situation.

Driving the news: Members of the newly formed Collective and Augmented Intelligence Against COVID-19 (CAIAC) announced today include the Future Society, a non-profit think tank from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, as well as the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and representatives from UN agencies.

  • Within six to eight weeks, CAIAC's platform will produce a decision-making tool that will initially focus on digital contact tracing of coronavirus infections, ferreting out misinformation about the pandemic and identifying second and third-order effects of COVID-19 that go beyond illness and death.

What they're saying: "With COVID-19 we realized there are tons of data available, but there was little global coordination on how to share it," says Cyrus Hodes, chair of the AI Initiative at the Future Society and a member of the CAIAC steering committee. "That's why we created this coalition — to put together a sense-making platform for policymakers to use."

  • Hodes says that CAIAC will be targeting U.N. agencies as some of the first users for the platform.

Context: COVID-19 has produced a flood of statistics, data and scientific publications — more than 35,000 of the latter as of July 8. But raw information is of little use unless it can be organized and analyzed in a way that can support concrete policies.

  • CAIAC will join similar initiatives like C3.ai's COVID-19 data lake and the Allen Institute for AI's CORD-19 data set.
  • "We want these tools to exist as a legacy for policymakers worldwide to use when the next crisis comes," says Hodes. "COVID-19 won't be the last grand challenge we face."

The bottom line: Humans aren't exactly doing a great job beating COVID-19, so we need all the machine help we can get.

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