Can human ingenuity assisted by new and emerging technologies overpower Covid-19? Will faster processing of more—and more relevant—data, analyzed with the right models, yield better insights into mitigating the spread of future pandemics, designing effective treatments, and developing successful vaccines? A number of promising initiatives were announced in recent weeks aiming to enlist data, AI algorithms, supercomputers, and human expertise in the fight with our global predicament.
The Digital Transformation Institute, a new research consortium established by C3.ai, Microsoft, a number of leading universities, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), announced its first call for proposals for “AI techniques to mitigate pandemics.” In addition to a total of $5.8 million in cash awards, recipients will be provided by Microsoft and C3.ai with significant cloud computing, supercomputing, data access, and AI software resources and technical support. Thomas M. Siebel, founder and chief executive of C3.ai, told The New York Times “I cannot imagine a more important use of AI.”
IBM is sharing supercomputing resources, cloud-based data repositories, and AI-driven search tools. The Allen Institute for AI has partnered with leading research groups to prepare and distribute the Covid-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), a free resource of over 51,000 scholarly articles. Google’s Kaggle has launched a series of data science competitions to answer Covid-19 questions posed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Covid-19 High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium is providing broad access to over 30 supercomputing systems, representing “over 402 petaflops, 105,334 nodes, 3,539,044 CPU cores, 41,286 GPUs, and counting.”
These are just few examples of recent efforts combining the power of data with computer power to understand and respond to the Coronavirus—super-fast computers or supercomputers crunching lots and lots of data are at the core of these initiatives. In the future, quantum computers, much faster computers than today’s supercomputers, may contribute to the speed by which our responses to pandemics are determined and deployed.
D-Wave Systems, a quantum computing startup, recently announced the immediate availability of free access to its cloud computing service, “designed to bring both classical and quantum resources to quickly and precisely solve highly complex problems with up to 10,000 fully connected variables.” Joining this initiative are a number of D-Wave’s partners and customers, including Forschungszentrum Jülich, a German interdisciplinary research center. According to Prof. Dr. Kristel Michielsen from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre, the initiative “is promising to accelerate the solution of complex problems in pharmacology and epidemiology, such as those that have arisen in the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, by means of hybrid workflows from quantum-classical computer simulations. To make efficient use of D-Wave’s optimization and AI capabilities, we are integrating the system into our modular HPC environment.”