With the coronavirus impacting most of the world, the medical community is hard at work trying to come up with some type of magic bullet that will stop the pandemic from propagating. Can artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) help nurture a solution? That’s what Microsoft and a host of top universities are hoping.

In a blog post published last week, Microsoft detailed the creation of the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute (C3.ai DTI), a consortium of scientists, researchers, innovators, and executives from the academic and corporate worlds whose mission it is to push AI to achieve social and economic benefits. As such, C3.ai DTI will sponsor and fund scientists and researchers to spur the digital transformation of business, government, and society.

Created by Microsoft, AI software provider C3.ai, and several leading universities, C3.ai DTI already has the first task on its agenda–to harness the power of AI to combat the coronavirus.

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Known as “AI Techniques to Mitigate Pandemic,” C3.ai DTI’s first call for research proposals is asking scholars, developers, and researchers to “embrace the challenge of abating COVID-19 and advance the knowledge, science, and technologies for mitigating future pandemics using AI.” Researchers are free to develop their own topics in response to this subject, but the consortium outlined 10 different areas open for consideration:

  1. Applying machine learning and other AI methods to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Genome-specific COVID-19 medical protocols, including precision medicine of host responses.
  3. Biomedical informatics methods for drug design and repurposing.
  4. Design and sharing of clinical trials for collecting data on medications, therapies, and interventions.
  5. Modeling, simulation, and prediction for understanding COVID-19 propagation and efficacy of interventions.
  6. Logistics and optimization analysis for design of public health strategies and interventions.
  7. Rigorous approaches to designing sampling and testing strategies.
  8. Data analytics for COVID-19 research harnessing private and sensitive data.
  9. Improving societal resilience in response to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  10. Broader efforts in biomedicine, infectious disease modeling, response logistics and optimization, public health efforts, tools, and methodologies around the containment of rising infectious diseases and response to pandemics, so as to be better prepared for future infectious diseases.

“We are collecting a massive amount of data about MERS, SARS, and now COVID-19,” Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State, said in the blog post. “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.”

This first call is currently open with a deadline of May 1, 2020. Interested participants can check the C3.ai DTI website to learn about the process and find out how to submit their proposals. Selected proposals will be announced by June 1, 2020.

The group will fund as much as $5.8 million in awards for this first call, with cash awards ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 each. Recipients will also receive cloud computing, supercomputing, data access, and AI software resources and technical support provided by Microsoft and C3.ai. Specifically, those with successful proposals will get unlimited use of the C3 AI Suite, access to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform, and access to the Blue Waters supercomputer at the National Center for Super Computing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

To fund the institute, C3.ai will provide $57,250,000 over the first five years of operation. C3.ai and Microsoft will contribute an additional $310 million, which includes use of the C3 AI Suite and Microsoft Azure. The universities involved in the consortium include the UIUC; the University of California, Berkeley; Princeton University; the University of Chicago; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Carnegie Mellon University.

Beyond funding successful research proposals, Microsoft said that C3.ai DTI will generate new ideas for the use of AI and ML through ongoing research, visiting professors and research scholars, and faculty and scholars in residence, many of whom will come from the member universities.

More specifically, the group will focus its research on AI, ML, Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics, human factors, organizational behavior, ethics, and public policy. This research will examine new business models, develop ways for creating change within organizations, analyze methods to protect privacy, and ramp up the conversations around the ethics and public policy of AI.

“In these difficult times, we need–now more than ever–to join our forces with scholars, innovators, and industry experts to propose solutions to complex problems,” Gwenaëlle Avice-Huet, Executive Vice President of ENGIE, said. “I am convinced that digital, data science, and AI are a key answer. The C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute is a perfect example of what we can do together to make the world better.”