Scientists and public health officials trying to manage the coronavirus crisis need as much data they can get their hands on in order to craft the measures that could keep us safe. And in 2020, this means deploying clever technology.
The big companies have risen to the challenge. In the US, Apple and Amazon updated their voice assistants, Siri and Alexa, using the authorities’ healthcare advice. Ask your Amazon Echo device “Alexa, what do I do if I think I have Covid-19?” and the voice assistant will ask about your symptoms, travel history and possible exposure to the virus.
Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter are all contributing to a global hackathon project that encourages developers to build technology that addresses pandemic-related issues.
In many ways this is the perfect problem for the agile tech industry: it’s an unprecedented, high-stakes challenge that’s moving fast, with the eyes of the whole world upon it.
Others have more immediate ambitions. Track Together, which garnered 7,000 users in 24 hours last week, is a website on which people enter their symptoms and their postcode and are given a live display of the number of known cases in their immediate area. It takes 20 seconds to use.