🦠 AI tackles COVID-19 research and could this pandemic be the catalyst for more surveillance?

📘Facebook had a face rec tech mobile app before Clearview AI made it cool

We are back to COVID-19 coverage. Buckle up.

The Good

Kaggle, with a bunch of partners like Google and The White House, is running a competition to see if we can learn anything about pandemic by using AI to analyze 29,000 papers on the virus (some of which look at previous coronaviruses). Wired says that 2,000 of those papers have been published since December. I looked over the 20 of them have come out on ArXiv computer science’s section. It’s an interesting mix:

A paper looks at how ship data could be useful in tracking the next pandemic. Another looks at reducing the burden on healthcare workers. There is a paper releasing a Twitter dataset.

Another looks at three different machine learning methods to determine a person’s vulnerability. Of course, there are a couple that addresses the question asked frequently of AI: can deep learning can spot something (this something being COVID-19) in CT scans.

These attempts will probably not solve this outbreak (unless this really drags out). But it will help with new coronaviruses and figuring out data workflows for future pandemics.

Obviously, these are non-peer reviewed and put out at a pretty incredible speed, so they need to be taken with a grain of salt. You can see all the papers here. There are even more papers on ArXiv in other categories too if you’re interested.

The Bad

The countries that have best managed the coronavirus have used big data to follow cases and risks. Both China and South Korea used apps to track the spread, and probably other measures that aren’t being shared. The U.S. government and companies have taken note, and more surveillance is coming for Americans.

It’s not just getting the tech giants to hand over smartphone data. Palantir, a company that sets off alarm bells in my head every time I hear of a new project they are on, is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to model the outbreak. Clearview AI also wants to help track patients.

Cameras are getting face rec tech combined with thermal readings to detect fever (which is probably overkill, but nothing boosts your sales like adding “AI-powered” to a product description).

Privacy advocates concede that surveillance might be useful in lessen the crisis, but those measure need to be temporary, something the government is not good at (see: The Patriot Act).

Speaking of expansive surveillance laws, Israel wants to empower its Internal Security Agency to track coronavirus via phone data, which is already being gathered for counterterrorism efforts with minimum oversight. One of their former national security chiefs poetically (and bluntly) defines the problem:

“The question of whether it is justified is a dilemma that falls exactly in that crack between democracy and national security.”

Still, he said, “Liberal democracy is violated by all sorts of battles.”

More News

Vice got a peek at Facebook’s “retired” face rec tech app.

The Pentagon might be changing its tune when it comes to the $10 billion cloud contract that they are trying to keep from Amazon ( which is suing them over it).

Border Patrol is trying to sell us on face rec tech since it’s a “touch-free, hygienic” option for identification.

The NYPD has used face rec tech for almost a decade and is just now getting around to policy on when and how to use it.

San Diego PD isn’t using Clearview AI—but did test it out.

The tech giants are buying up all the small AI startups. In other news, water is wet.

COVID-19 Extras:

Lend us your GPUs to fight the virus, gamers!

Companies are using AI to look for COVID-19 treatments and therapies and detect cases of it before testing.

More photos of robots at work dealing with the coronavirus, including in the U.S.

Here are some free AI courses to take if you’re bored at home.

Autonomous vehicle testing is on hold.


Until Zuck has face rec tech used against him and decides to do something about it,