SUPERCOMPUTER v. NOVEL CORONA

On April 2, 2020

Introduction

The fight against the novel coronavirus [COVID-19], perhaps the worst scourge since the influenza epidemic following World War I, will take the best minds and equipment that the public and private sector can muster.

This is why at the end of March, the White House joined forces with Big Tech to pool supercomputing resources. A new initiative will give researchers access to computing power which goes far beyond the average device and may lead to the discovery of new treatments and vaccines. The initiative called the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium was launched by IBM with the help of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google.

“America is coming together to fight COVID-19, and that means unleashing the full capacity of our world-class supercomputers to rapidly advance scientific research for treatments and a vaccine,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios in The Technology 202.

How It Works

Researchers can apply for access to the supercomputers to run AI-assisted simulations for such things as simulations of specific molecules related to vaccine development and new therapies. These types of supercomputer simulations can rapidly help predict mutations and evolution of the virus— at a blistering pace that is impossible for ordinary computers because of the number of variables that need to be considered. Another example is predicting the positive and negative effects of specific drugs. This is a computationally complex problem because it requires simulating the structure of molecules and their chemical features.

“These high-performance computing systems allow researchers to run very large numbers of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling. These experiments would take years to complete if worked by hand, or months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms,” IBM said in a news release.

Microsoft and Google will provide research grants to use high-performance computing. Microsoft says its in-house data science experts will be available to team with researchers. In addition, Amazon Web Services will provide credits for cloud services and technical support to researchers to accelerate COVID-19 research and development.

Academic partners include Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). The Department of Energy National Laboratories, the RPI Science Foundation and NASA will also participate.

The announcement of this initiative follows the release of the COVID-19 Open Research Database, an open-access project from the National Institutes of Health that provides data from more than 44,000 articles about SARS-CoV-2 available for AI analysis.

Another supercomputer collective joining the battle is the C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute (DTI), which brings the skills and compute power of the AI company C3.ai with various academic institutions and private companies.

Thomas M. Siebel, founder and chief executive of C3.ai, told the New York Times, the first part of the company’s name stands for the convergence of three digital trends: big data, cloud computing and the internet of things, with A.I. amplifying their power. The institute will seek new ways of slowing the pathogen’s spread, speeding the development of medical treatments, designing and repurposing drugs, planning clinical trials, predicting the disease’s evolution, judging the value of interventions, improving public health strategies and finding better ways in the future to fight infectious outbreaks.

Some of the ways AI Techniques Seek to Mitigate the Pandemic Include:

  • Genome-specific COVID-19 medical protocols, including precision medicine of host responses.
  • Biomedical informatics methods for drug design and repurposing.
  • Design and sharing of clinical trials for collecting and analyzing data on medications, therapies, and interventions.
  • Modeling, simulation, prediction of COVID-19 propagation and efficacy of interventions.
  • Logistics and optimization analysis for the design of public health strategies and interventions.
  • Rigorous approaches to designing sampling and testing strategies.
  • Data analytics for COVID-19 research harnessing private and sensitive data, including the role of edge computing/IoT for gathering data.

Conclusion

“Ultimately, we need a cure. To be able to tackle that, we need to accelerate science,” Dario Gil, director of IBM Research told the Wall Street Journal. “We do have an extreme sense of urgency.”

Supercomputing power coupled with access to a vast data set for experts to mine is a formidable force on the front lines in the war against the novel coronavirus. The machines to which researchers will have free access include two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers from IBM: Summit, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Lassen, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The call is for the world’s leading scientists to join in a coordinated and innovative effort to bring advances in Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet of Things, to help design the thinking needed to defeat this pandemic. If this virus is one of history’s meanest, then we’re currently throwing all the supercomputing power we’ve got at it.

Let us hope the same technology which can defeat the world’s best Jeopardy, Chess and Go masters will be able to defeat this virus too.