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A.I. Versus the Coronavirus – The New York Times

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Thomas M. Siebel, C3.ai’s founder and chief executive.

Advanced computer systems have defeated chess masters and realized the right way to choose by mountains of information to acknowledge faces and voices. Now, a billionaire developer of software program and synthetic intelligence is teaming up with prime universities and firms to see if A.I. may also help curb the present and future pandemics.

Thomas M. Siebel, founder and chief government of C3.ai, a man-made intelligence firm in Redwood City, Calif., mentioned the public-personal consortium would spend $367 million in its preliminary 5 years, aiming its first awards at discovering methods to gradual the new coronavirus that’s sweeping the globe.

“I cannot imagine a more important use of A.I.,” Mr. Siebel mentioned in an interview.

Known as the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute, the new analysis consortium consists of commitments from Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago, in addition to C3.ai and Microsoft. It seeks to place prime scientists onto gargantuan social issues with the assist of A.I. — its first problem being the pandemic.

The new institute will search new methods of slowing the pathogen’s unfold, rushing the growth of medical therapies, designing and repurposing medication, planning scientific trials, predicting the illness’s evolution, judging the worth of interventions, bettering public well being methods and discovering higher methods in the future to combat infectious outbreaks.

Condoleezza Rice, a former U.S. secretary of state who serves on the C3.ai board and was lately named the next director of the Hoover Institution, a conservative assume tank on the Stanford campus, called the initiative a singular alternative to “better manage these phenomena and avert the worst outcomes for humanity.”

The new institute plans to award as much as 26 grants yearly, every that includes as much as $500,000 in analysis funds along with computing assets. It requires the principal investigators to be situated at the consortium’s universities however permits companions and group members at different establishments. It desires coronavirus proposals to be submitted by May and plans to award its first grants in June. The analysis findings are to be made public.

The institute’s co-administrators are S. Shankar Sastry of the University of California, Berkeley, and Rayadurgam Srikant of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The computing energy is to return from C3.ai and Microsoft, in addition to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. The faculties run a few of the world’s most superior supercomputers.

Successful A.I. could be extraordinarily exhausting to ship, particularly in thorny actual-world issues similar to self-driving cars. When requested if the institute was much less a plan for sensible outcomes than a really feel-good train, Mr. Siebel replied, “The probability of something good not coming out of this is zero.”


In latest a long time, many wealthy Americans have sought to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research, in some circumstances outdoing what the federal authorities can obtain as a result of its targets are sometimes unadventurous and its budgets unpredictable.

Forbes puts Mr. Siebel’s present web value at $3.6 billion. His First Virtual Group is a diversified holding firm that features philanthropic ventures.

Born in 1952, Mr. Siebel studied history and computer science at the University of Illinois and was an government at Oracle earlier than founding Siebel Systems in 1993. It pioneered customer service software and merged with Oracle in 2006. He founded what got here to be named C3.ai in 2009.

The first a part of the firm’s identify, Mr. Siebel mentioned in an e mail, stands for the convergence of three digital developments: large knowledge, cloud computing and the web of issues, with A.I. amplifying their energy. Last 12 months, he laid out his thesis in a book — “Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction.” C3.ai works with purchasers on initiatives like ferreting out digital fraud and building smart cities.

In an interview, Eric Horvitz, the chief scientist of Microsoft and a medical physician who serves on the spinoff institute’s board, likened the push for coronavirus options to a compressed moon shot.

The energy of the strategy, he mentioned, comes from bringing collectively key gamers and establishments. “We forget who is where and ask what we can do as a team,” Dr. Horvitz mentioned.

Seeing synthetic intelligence as a very good factor — maybe a lifesaver — is a pointy reversal from the way it usually will get held in dread. Critics have assailed A.I. as dangerously highly effective, even threatening the enslavement of humanity to robots with superhuman powers.

“In no way am I suggesting that A.I. is all sweetness and light,” Mr. Siebel mentioned. But the new institute, he added, is “a place where it can be a force for good.”

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