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April 13, 2020

Coders Enlisted to Fight Virus as Post-Pandemic Data Gathering Begins

George Leopold

Among the growing list of tech industry efforts designed to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak is an IBM-sponsored coding challenge that extends beyond climate change projects to address the pandemic.

Meanwhile, other resources are being marshalled in an attempt to gather epidemiology data that could be used to determine if and when to relax steps like social distancing and reopen parts of the U.S. economy.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) said the goal of its expanded coding challenge is to “identify, build, and deploy solutions” related to community cooperation, crisis communications and remote education. For example, the community component focuses on local issues such as the availability of resources ranging food supplies for hard-pressed food banks to medical and other equipment.

Similar efforts have emerged at the county level, where officials oversee public health and safety. For instance, groups like the National Association of Counties have been working with data partners to track and respond to the pandemic.

Organizers of the COVID-19 challenge released starter kits covering the three categories. They are available here.

IBM said it is working with the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Linux Foundation to attract developers, data scientists and other coders. “In a single day, we received over 1,000 registrations from developers,” the company said announcing the effort. “First responders, at-risk individuals and coders are reaching out to us to share their experiences and brainstorm solutions.”

The initial submission deadline for IBM’s 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge is Monday, April 27. IBM said it would announce the top three solutions during a company event on May 5. Deployment of the top solutions would begin in mid-May. Organizers said they would continue accepting submissions through July 31. The final winners will be announced in October.

The code challenge is among a list of corporate efforts aimed at leveraging technologies to fight COVID-19. IBM’s initiatives include supercomputer access, a “trusted incident tracking tool” and free use of Watson Assistant for at least 90 days.

A complete list is here.

Other tools are emerging as responses to the pandemic evolve. For instance, Stanford University in collaboration with the University of Virginia announced a web site this week designed to gather data on social distancing. The site provides “accurate, county-level data to epidemiologists who will advise federal agencies—and, ultimately, state and local officials—when to start letting different communities resume daily activities again,” university researchers said.

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