White House, tech industry discuss AI solutions to coronavirus pandemic on ‘initial’ call

The Office of Science and Technology Policy challenged companies to come up with solutions for making sense of a vast, new database of scientific publications on the virus.
Lynne Parker, Deputy U.S. CTO, White House
Lynne Parker speaks March 11, 2020, at the IT Modernization Summit presented by FedScoop. (Scoop News Group)

The White House held an hour-and-a-half-long phone call with the technology industry Wednesday to discuss how companies might use artificial intelligence and other innovations to aid agencies’ response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Spearheaded by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the 9 a.m. call saw U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios demonstrate a new database of full-text scientific publications on the new coronavirus to companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Having spoken with science advisors earlier in the day, federal officials want AI like natural language processing used on the vast corpus to mine the text for possible answers to questions like: How long does the virus last? Can it resurface? And what’s the best way to treat the virus?

“It’s about making sure we can collectively take advantage of all the good ideas the tech industry has, but it also helps the agencies to have a process for presenting a challenge that we have — an idea that we have that we would love to have help with,” Lynne Parker, deputy U.S. CTO, told FedScoop. “Then the tech industry can sort of coalesce around particular solutions.”


As K-12 and higher-education institutions consider tele-education during the pandemic, agencies requested the tech industry propose online tools for remote learning that make use of AI.

Social media companies Facebook and Twitter were also on the call to discuss combating coronavirus misinformation spreading on those platforms.

“Cutting-edge technology companies and major online platforms will play a critical role in this all-hands-on-deck effort,” Kratsios said in a statement. “Today’s meeting outlined an initial path forward, and we intend to continue this important conversation.”

Out of the call arose a “loose sort of partnership,” Parker said at the 2020 IT Modernization Summit presented by FedScoop. Although the White House‘s AI lead stopped short of promising an AI breakthrough.

The White House proposed a binding set of principles in January for regulatory consistency among agencies trying to govern the development of AI in the private sector. Those principles will need to be considered during any sort of public-private coronavirus venture, Parker said.


“There is data that can allow us to do things like determine where the spread of the disease might be in the aggregate,” she said. “But where is the line, in general, to making sure that we’re not also giving up our privacy by having individuals’ information out there that we don’t want to give up — even in the midst of a crisis?”

If nothing else, the call opened up the possibility for information sharing not only with the companies participating but also any others that can help, Parker added.

Agencies on the call included the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Office of the Surgeon General, National Institutes of Health, Department of Labor, State Department, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education.

The other industry representatives that participated were Cisco, the Consumer Technology Association, IBM, the Information Technology Industry Council, the Software & Information Industry Association, and TechNet.

A date for a second call wasn’t set, but OSTP expects everything from “asynchronous conversations” to formal meetings going forward, Parker said.


“So many companies are already doing things to help with coronavirus,” she told FedScoop. “And there’s a lot of enthusiasm about coming together and seeing what we can do collectively.”

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