Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Thursday, April 2, 2020
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5 Tech Giants Combine to Combat Coronavirus Misinformation, Fraud; Companies Issue Pandemic Policies 

This article is an updated version of a story first published on March 17. 

In the face of a report warning that COVID-19 could kill more than 2 million Americans if social distancing and other precautions are not adopted, big tech companies are joining forces and issuing guidelines restricting employees to work at home while also putting in place business continuity strategies for themselves and their customers.

Calling coronavirus the most serious health threat since the “Spanish Flu” H1N1 virus that killed tens of millions worldwide in 1918-1920, an epidemic research group at Imperial College London yesterday released the results of its epidemiological simulation modeling that has influenced government policymakers in several countries, including the US and UK – along with, at least indirectly, technology companies. Here's a sampling of how some tech firms are responding to the crisis:

Five tech giants, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Reddit and Twitter – whose customer bases incorporate the vast majority of the world’s population with internet access – jointly announced yesterday they are combining forces to combat coronavirus-related fraud and misinformation.

Inviting other companies to work with them “to keep our communities healthy and safe,,” the companies said in a tweet: "We're helping millions of people stay connected... elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world."

The statement and joint effort comes in response to a proliferation of pandemic-related bogus information, fake treatments, fraud schemes on social media sites, email and messaging.

Also in line with the increasingly grave outlook regarding the pandemic, Dell Technologies on Sunday issued a blog for employees, business partners and customers, “Navigating Through COVID-19,” declaring that the company is “going virtual” as much as possible.

This includes the issuance of a global work-from-home policy “for team members capable of doing so” and “fully sanitize(ing) our sites several times a day, wiping down frequently used surfaces and disinfecting common areas with alcohol-based solutions.” Travel for Dell employees and contractors is limited “to business-critical and customer-critical only,” “and, when employees travel to or through countries under travel bans – for personal and non-Dell reasons – they must self-quarantine, stay away from Dell Technologies facilities or customer sites, nor interact with Dell personnel or customers for 14 days upon returning home.” The company has also put in place a virtual customer and partner engagement program.

The company also said Dell Technologies World, its annual gathering scheduled for early May in Las Vegas, will be a virtual event, while Dell events associated with SXSW 2020 in Austin along with the WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play PGA gold tournament, scheduled for later this month, have been cancelled.

On the charity front, Dell said it will donate more than more than $4 million USD to combat COVID-19 in China and around the world.

And the company disclosed that its Wrangler advanced data analytics system has been used by the University of Texas at Austin and other institutions in Hong Kong, mainland China and France to analyze travel data to model the spread of coronavirus through China.

Intel, meanwhile, issued similar work-from-home and social distancing directives in a recent blog, while adding reassurances that the company will pay in full Intel’s hourly workers for at least the next two months. “This policy also extends to hourly workers employed by Intel service partners around the world, regardless of changes to service levels due to our remote-work and social distancing policies.”

On the benefits front, the company said that employees and contractors asked to work at home, or to self-quarantine due to travel restrictions, will be paid their regular pay, and Intel will reimburse up to 15 days of care services for employees who need backup childcare and/or elder care when there are school or care center closures or if an employee or family member is required to be self-quarantined due to the coronavirus outbreak.

To combat the coronavirus, Intel said it has partnered with Lenovo and Beijing-based BGI Genomics, and its sequencing tools, on analysis of genomic characteristics of COVID-19 and to investigate transmission patterns of the virus. Intel’s Pandemic Leadership Team and Corporate Emergency Operations Center is monitoring changes in the global environment “to safeguard the well-being of employees and minimize the spread of infection by partnering with local governments and public health organizations and following their recommendations.”

Similar directives have come from HPE to its employees and customers, including notice that the company will cancel or postpone most HPE hosted, co-hosted or sponsored events through April 2020, except local events in areas deemed safe to host. The company has cancelled the “Discover More” event series for the rest of 2020, although, as of now HPE Discover 2020 is scheduled to take place as planned in Las Vegas, June 23 – 25.

Among hyperscalers, Bing, Microsoft’s Internet search engine, has launched a mapping capability designed to track cases of COVID-19, that includes a near-time map locating confirmed cases and cases per country, state and county.

The world’s most power supercomputer, the IBM-built Summit, has been put into the search for a COVID-19 vaccine by researchers at Oak Ridge National Labs, who were granted emergency computation time on the system to perform research simulations of more than 8,000 possible compounds. IBM said that in two days, Summit (capable of 200 quadrillion operations/second) examined 77 small-molecule drug potential compounds, a task, IBM said would have taken years using a traditional wet-lab approach.

OnScale, a cloud-based engineering simulation specialist, announced it will provide free cloud core-hours to customers “to promote customer safety and mitigate any productivity loss due to office shutdowns.”

“We understand that many of our customers are still tied to local, on-premises computing for their OnScale engineering simulation needs,” said Ian Campbell, CEO of OnScale. “In order to help protect the safety of our customers, we are offering free and full access to our OnScale Cloud Simulation platform to our existing customers so that engineers working from home or remotely can continue to be productive in advancing R&D priorities.”

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