Google, Facebook, and other tech companies met with members of the Trump administration Wednesday with the purpose of hammering out a strategy to confront the coronavirus outbreak.
Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook had a phone-to-video meeting with top officials in the Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding ways artificial intelligence can help medical researchers develop a vaccine. They also discussed how to tackle online misinformation on the virus, known as COVID-19.
“Cutting edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort,” U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios said in a statement announcing the meeting. The meeting included members from the Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, both of which are leading the effort.
Each company has it own responsibility, according to a readout of the statement.
The Department of Energy is using IBM’s supercomputer to help weed out variable preventing scientists from more quickly discovering an antidote, IBM noted in a statement on the company’s website.
“Computer simulations can examine how different variables react with different viruses, but when each of these individual variables can be comprised of millions or even billions of unique pieces of data and compounded with the need to be run multiple simulations, this can quickly become a very time-intensive process using commodity hardware,” the company said.
Facebook, for its part, is deploying AI tools calculating mobility data and population density maps to help determine COVID-19’s spread, company CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a March 3 Facebook post regarding how his mega social media platform can harness data to neutralize the virus. Google is also being asked to provide assistance as health officials tackle the problem.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted in a March 6 blog post that the company’s “DeepMind used the latest version of its AlphaFold system to release structure predictions of several proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.”
Such a system can help medical researchers understand “how the virus functions and experimental work in developing future treatments,” he added. Big tech’s work with Trump comes amid growing tensions between Silicon Valley and the president, who has expressed the believe that Google, Twitter, Facebook and others are biased against conservatives.
The president convened a summit in July 2019 to allow major conservative groups and pundits to vent their frustrations with Silicon Valley. Many conservatives and Republicans believe social media companies are suppressing their content, and the Department of Justice is engaged in a comprehensive antitrust investigation into Google, which has had its fair share of rows with the government.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 ccases in the U.S. continues to grow, with more than 1,000 in 39 states while the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic Wednesday. A global pandemic is defined as a virus that spreads across the world, and declaring an illness as such can have both political and economic consequences.
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