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Connecting Policymakers to COVID-19 Data, Research, and Insights

HAI and the Future Society have launched a global partnership to ensure data and research will be used to answer questions that matter.

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People track the spread of COVID-19.

REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

Researchers track information about health and social isolation to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing policymakers to quickly weigh challenging trade-offs between public health and economic well-being. But the authoritative research needed to inform their decisions is often slow to arrive.   

To reduce that lag time, the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (Stanford HAI) is partnering with the AI Initiative at the Future Society, the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, and UNESCO, with advisors including UN Global Pulse and the World Bank, to structure the world’s information on COVID-19 and make it immediately useful for front-line policymakers, health care leaders, the scientific community, and other stakeholders.

“The goal is to create a platform that connects data and research providers with those in a position to take action based on the data and research being generated,” says Michael Sellitto, deputy director of Stanford HAI. The partnership, called Collective and Augmented Intelligence Against COVID-19 (CAIAC), has already signed on some major clients, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and various national governments.

“This is such a sweet spot for HAI,” says Russ Altman, the Kenneth Fong Professor in the Stanford School of Engineering and a professor of bioengineering, of genetics, of medicine, and of biomedical data science and an associate director of Stanford HAI. “We can use the power of AI to help people who are trying to make decisions. It fits well with HAI’s agenda of doing AI in service of humanity.”

CAIAC aims to build a shared platform that will bring together disparate datasets across multiple disciplines – medicine, economics, and social sciences – to generate the kinds of authoritative, up-to-date insights policymakers need to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on lives and livelihoods. And because decision-makers are involved from the start, it’s more likely that the research will solve problems these organizations are actually dealing with, Altman says. “It will be a little bit of a tighter feedback loop than we might normally have.”

Initially, the partnership intends to focus on three projects in the areas of tracking and tracing COVID-19’s spread, economic assistance to impacted groups, and the “infodemic.” The data included in the platform will be quite varied, Sellitto says. “That’s why we need to build this really robust and global platform.”

In the health arena, UNESCO is interested in digital innovation to combat COVID-19, including apps for tracking the spread and how to establish rules for doing that ethically. 

In the economic space, CAIAC will first explore how to keep the economy warm and support people during the shutdown, as well as how to transition to economic recovery. Key datasets will encompass information about jobs lost as well as jobs most at risk of displacement during a recovery. “COVID is potentially accelerating a lot of economic transitions that were happening more slowly,” Sellito says.

Another initial CAIAC project will focus on disinformation – the so-called infodemic of inaccurate information circling around COVID-19. Public health organizations have an interest in putting out good, vetted information and combating dis- and misinformation, an area where a number of researchers from across Stanford are actively working. 

Datasets on the platform could eventually include the entire corpus of medical literature about coronavirus as well as information from biobank repositories that include COVID-19 patients’ blood samples along with details about their health histories, treatments, and outcomes. “That’s going to be a great opportunity to use machine learning to look at why some patients fare poorly while others have only minor symptoms,” Sellitto says. 

“We have an unbelievable network of HAI-affiliated faculty,” Altman says. “No matter what expertise is required to get over the hump with CAIAC – technical, social, behavioral – it’s likely we have faculty and others who can provide that expertise.”

Stanford HAI's mission is to advance AI research, education, policy and practice to improve the human condition. Learn more