On Joining CoronaWhy

Time moves strangely when you’re stuck in the house. We’ve been self quarantining for the last four days, and for a few days before that only I was going out, and the shift has had me thinking about priorities.

In throwing metaphorical meditative mind darts at the bullseye of Ikigai in this current scenario, I realized I get to work with so many amazing folks in Emerging Media that surely we could put our computational chops to good effect, aimed at the COVID-19 pandemic.

I was delighted when Saeed and the team at the Emerging Media Lab approved the prospect of an EMLx team for this purpose, and as that grew I wondered where we could best apply ourselves.

Then a friend pointed out Kaggle’s CORD-19 challenge, which seemed like a perfect fit: Metadata from 44,000 scholarly articles, 29,000 with full text, and 10 important questions to be answered:

  1. What is known about transmission, incubation, and environmental stability? 
  2. What do we know about COVID-19 risk factors? 
  3. Help us understand how geography affects virality. 
  4. What do we know about virus genetics, origin, and evolution? 
  5. What has been published about ethical and social science considerations? 
  6. What has been published about medical care? 
  7. What has been published about information sharing and inter-sectoral collaboration? 
  8. What do we know about vaccines and therapeutics? 
  9. What do we know about diagnostics and surveillance? 
  10. What do we know about non-pharmaceutical interventions?

It didn’t take me long to find CoronaWhy, a team started by serial entrepreneur, AI expert and author of “Robot Is The Boss – How to Do Business with Artificial Intelligence” Artur Kiulian. The team was already well over 100 and getting organized.

There are moments when what have seemed like tangential strands of your life come into syzygy, and all of a sudden you find the angle from which they make a beautiful pattern. This was one of those moments.

  • Since my Grade 10 teacher introduced me to fractals (Thanks Mr. Moro!) I’ve had an abiding interest in Chaos Theory and emergent systems.
  • Through my opportunities to learn from Tree Bressen and participate in her Group Pattern Language Project my love of community and team building turned into a fascination with formal facilitation and how you bring groups together to make good decisions – one of the most complex of emergent systems around!
  • My lifelong love of computers has continued to evolve into a particular interest in how we visualize, understand and interact with data and how we can use VR to better understand and build compassion for ourselves, others and our world.

And here I found myself in an extraordinary emergent and emerging prototeam of volunteers from around the world looking to put their gifts to good use, united by common interest in solving some incredibly challenging and important problems, and only beginning to figure out what that could look like.

And so I jumped in, and found that my need to do something meaningful and excitement at the challenges a group like this faces were sufficient to hold my imposter syndrome at bay.

This was helped tremendously by who the CoronaWhy team is – an inspiring collection of amazingly dedicated and talented professionals volunteering their time and leaving egos at the door to find a way to work together to tackle an incredibly daunting problem.

We’re now more than 250 strong spread across 16 time zones. We’re slowly organizing, and already we’re starting to get some preliminary results that will help us target the data that may provide answers to the questions listed above.

We’re still looking for help: volunteers, resources, data, introductions to the people and organizations that can help us hone in on the right questions to ask and get any answers we find into the hands of those who can use it to best effect. There’s work for folks with every skill set and any amount of time.

I’ll be posting more about CoronaWhy over the next while – about our work, about the experience of working with a team like this, and about what I’m learning about how to crystallize a project of this scale as quickly and efficiently as possible, both from our successes and our failures. I’ll also talk about how our local EMLx / Banging Rocks team is working to support CoronaWhy’s efforts.

I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish, and where it all leads.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *