Decision-makers and politicians have difficult and complicated decisions in the wake of COVID-19. When to reopen services. Whether schools, businesses and restaurants should be opened up. How soon is too soon?
Having the right information with the help of existing software tools can automate parts of pandemic policy-making.
Canada CIFAR AI Chair Frank Wood and a team of researchers at the Programming Languages for Artificial Intelligence (PLAI) Research Group at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have received a grant to continue their research in this vein. They have been investigating how to use existing epidemiological models, a software tool and the techniques it developed through AI, to automate the decision-making process of which policies to put in place. As a result, economies could feasibly reopen quickly and safely. Details like hand-washing, social distancing, school closures, and their specific parameters can all be carefully measured and AI can help determine the right approach.
“Every model that we’ve seen implies that COVID-19 is going to be with us for some time.” says Wood, an associate professor at UBC and an associate member of Mila (a global pole for scientific advances and the development of AI). “Being locked up has put an immense strain on everyone. Our aim is to help reopen the economy as quickly as possible while remaining safe, and the part we are well equipped to play in this is to inform epidemiologists and policy-makers about the most advanced tools and techniques available to do this now.”
“There was a groundswell of support and interest in doing good amongst members of my laboratory, rising almost to the level of mutiny,” says Wood. The grant from CIFAR was a “welcome signal from the Canadian research funding landscape that this is a priority area.”
Wood is in ongoing discussions with Mila, MIT, Northeastern, Google, and various other teams. He is eager to expand collaboration with epidemiologists and policy-makers who are best equipped to use his software tools to support important policy decisions in the very near future.
As COVID-19 evolves, we will as well.
Frank Wood (Canada CIFAR AI Chair, Mila, University of British Columbia), Benjamin Bloem-Reddy, Alexandre Bouchard, Trevor Campbell (University of British Columbia)