Technology might be the key to fighting the coronavirus

Sébastien Louradour of the World Economic Forum explains how tech can help solve the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technology might be the key to fighting the coronavirus

Dan Patterson, senior producer for CNET and CBS News, spoke with Sébastien Louradour, fellow, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, World Economic Forum. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sébastien Louradour: Maybe before just talking about the technology, I think it's important, you're right, to highlight that tech solutions won't resolve everything. And in this particular situation, I believe that, for example, governments have to massively test people for COVID-19. This is the first thing that governments have to do right now. And when we will be able to do so massively, we will be able to deploy the technology that will help to track who has the virus, and to make sure that we can contain the propagation of the virus. But it's very important first to have governments investing in healthcare and making sure that we can test everybody so we can deploy this technology.

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Essentially, this technology can be, for example, based on contact tracing apps, so the idea is that wherever you go, the app can allow you to know if you have met someone who have contracted with COVID-19 because he have access to a proper test, and then you can anonymously know that someone that you have met at some point during the past 15 days may have it and that you may have contracted it as well so you can test as well to make sure that nothing happened to you.

What is going on right now is that, and something we have seen for, I think, many years now, there is a lack of trust when it comes to governments especially when it comes to Western countries. You're talking about South Korea, I believe you can also mention countries like Japan, where governments deploying this kind of technology doesn't lead to the same level of questions that we could face, for example, in the US or in Europe. If you take the example of Europe, for example, it's very interesting because you have GDPR, which is already in place, and that obviously can protect, at a very high level, citizens, on the privacy levels. You have that in place. And even though you see a lot of civic society organizations in Europe saying that this kind of contact tracing app would lead to infringement of freedoms of citizens.

It's a very, very complex trade off that governments in Western countries are facing right now. Because even though you have a very high level of privacy by the law, if you take the GDPR examples from Europe, even though you have that, there is a huge lack of trust. And so, the question now for tech companies and governments is to see how they can partner together and build something that would be trustworthy for citizens. This is really what we need to be right now.

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We need to have around the same table, people that will help build something trustworthy. So we need governments, we need tech companies, but we also need civic society, we need advocacy groups that will help build something trustworthy. It's very interesting to see how, for example, advocacy groups have been working on this topic for the past week. Privacy International, for example, very interesting the work they have been doing explaining why Bluetooth would be maybe a better solution than, for example, localization technology. If you take the ACLU, it's very interesting the principals they have put together in a recent white paper to say, "OK, if we deploy a technology like this, this is the kind of principles we should have to respect." There is a way to resolve that, but we have to put on the same table, the right people.

We don't want to share our health data to governments or tech companies. To be very fair, I mean, tech companies have been trying to get those data. It's very interesting data and they can use them for commercial use. Those health data, we want to make them private as much as possible. I think this is a very, very important example. And, of course, we want to avoid any kind of surveillance that the tool would lead to. That's why it's important, for example, Bluetooth is interesting, for example, because if you take Bluetooth, you're not able to know where people have been. If you take localization technology, the risk is higher. So, that's why, for example, Bluetooth is a better solution. But yeah, obviously in health data, that kind of information, we want to keep them private and only share them with our physicians, hospitals, that's it.

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Image: Dan Patterson