Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Sunday, July 12, 2020
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C3.ai’s COVID-19 Awardees Are an Inflection Point for Pandemic Research 

“The probability of something good not coming out of this is zero,” said Tom Siebel, CEO of enterprise AI software provider C3.ai, which has announced the winners of its awards for COVID-19 research through the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute (DTI). The awards – more than two dozen of them – span a wide range of COVID-19-related research topics and offer the awardees access to supercomputing power, C3.ai’s software, Microsoft Azure resources and more.

C3.ai’s DTI is managed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and UC Berkeley. In partnership with Microsoft, C3.ai issued a call for research proposals in late March, seeking projects that would use advanced AI and computing technologies to illuminate the coronavirus pandemic. “I think that many of the decisions that have been made around the world … are most certainly well-intended, but they are not informed by data,” Siebel said. “So the idea is to provide well-informed, scientifically grounded, data-driven conclusions from empirical data so that our policy-makers can be making better-informed decisions.” 

After the call was closed in mid-May, 500 reviewers helped narrow down the 201 submissions to 185 eligible submissions and, finally, to 26 recipients. Of the $46.5M requested by the eligible recipients, C3.ai awarded $5.4 million to researchers from six institutions: UC Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Chicago, Princeton University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and MIT. The projects themselves span seven categories: AI for epidemiology, social good and clinical use; mathematical modeling, control and logistics; vaccine and drug discovery; computational biology; imaging and computer vision; intelligent databases and search; and distributed computing. (To see the full list of awardees, click here.)

Perhaps most interestingly, these projects go well beyond the tried-and-true elements of computational COVID-19 research like drug discovery and protein analysis. Some of the projects highlighted by C3.ai tackle more social elements of the pandemic, such as the looming eviction crisis, linkages between socioeconomic factors (race, poverty, etc.), and more.

“The first set of funded proposals highlights the multidisciplinary nature of the problems that we face, spanning from the core biology to challenges with planning and logistics to core public health challenges – and some that are clearly based in inequities rooted in long-term racial discrimination,” said Eric Horvitz, chief scientific officer at Microsoft. “The initial wave of funded proposals … calls out strong opportunities to make a difference with multiple efforts, including ones that build insights on … social determinants of health that can help cities, states and nations to address injustice and disparity.”

“This is a perfect application of the work that we’ve done in the last decade to provide information to policy-makers,” Siebel concluded. “Sparks are gonna fly here, change is going to happen and the world is gonna be a better place.”

Initial results from several of the awardees are expected this summer.

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