1 week, 3 major collaborations to fight COVID-19 with massive compute power

The coronavirus crisis continues to unite heretofore unaffiliated technology powerhouses at the forefront of AI and other forms of IT innovation in healthcare. The trend continued March 26 with the launch of a multifaceted, far-flung and very well-funded institute.

Its initial aim: pitting the best AI can bring to the fight against COVID-19.

Called the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, or C3.ai DTI for short, the effort gets its first name from the AI software company headquartered in Redwood City, Calif.

C3.ai’s partners in the work include Microsoft, the University of California, Berkeley, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and the latter’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

The C3.ai DTI will have as its mission “accelerating the application of artificial intelligence to speed the pace of digital transformation in business, government and society,” according to the March 26 announcement. It will be jointly managed by UC Berkeley and UIUC.

The initial project is a call for research proposals for advancing ways to slow or stop COVID-19 and future pandemics using AI. Subsequent calls for research proposals are to follow on a biannual basis.

Examples of sought proposals include those that apply machine learning and other AI methods to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, design or repurpose drug design and improve societal resilience in response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The institute plans to offer researchers as many as 26 cash awards per year, each ranging from $100,000 to $500,000.

It’s also allotting $750,000 annually to compensate visiting professors and researchers who support its participating scholars, as well as providing free access to Microsoft’s Azure cloud and C3 AI Suite resources and several other supports and perks.

Overall, C3.ai plans to offer nearly $57.3 million in cash contributions over the first five years of the DTI’s operation.

The compute resources from C3.ai and Microsoft will amount to an additional $310 million of in-kind contributions.

“We are collecting a massive amount of data about MERS, SARS and now COVID-19,” says Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and a member of C3.ai’s board of directors. “We have a unique opportunity before us to apply the new sciences of AI and digital transformation to learn from these data how we can better manage these phenomena and avert the worst outcomes for humanity. I can think of no work more important and no response more cogent and timely than this important public-private partnership.”

The launch comes during the same week in which similarly aggressive and broad-based efforts to deploy supercomputing in the war against COVID-19 were announced by the White House and Amazon Web Services.