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President Trump announced the White House will join forces with major tech companies to pool supercomputing resources in the battle against the novel coronavirus.
Trump said the initiative — which will help researchers gain access to computing power far exceeding that of average consumer devices — could help experts “discover new treatments and vaccines.” IBM helped launch the “COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium,” and Amazon, Microsoft and Google also confirmed they would participate.
“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,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios said in a statement to The Technology 202.
The partnership underscores how tech companies are working more closely with the White House to respond to the global crisis after years of a contentious relationship. As much of the U.S. economy grinds to a halt, the tech industry is uniquely positioned to support the government’s efforts to broadcast key information about the virus, assist workers financially and now aid critical research.
Just a few weeks ago, it would have been farfetched for Amazon to join forces with the Trump administration. The Trump administration has long publicly sparred with Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. Amazon Web Services will be providing credits for cloud services and technical support to researchers to accelerate covid-19 research and development.
“Working together, government, business, and academic leaders can utilize the power of the cloud to advance the pace of scientific discovery and innovation, and help combat the covid-19 virus,” said Teresa Carlson, vice president of worldwide public sector at AWS.
The consortium pools 16 systems that together offer over 330 petaflops of supercomputing capacity, according to a White House news release, and more cloud computing capacity is expected to be added. Researchers can start submitting proposals to use the systems through an online portal, and the partner institutions will review them. A team of public health experts will help assess the public health benefit of the proposals.
“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 be providing grants to researchers to use high-performance computing. Microsoft says its in-house data science experts are also available to team up with researchers.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Antonio Neri, the company’s president and chief executive, tweeted about the HPE’s commitment to the project:
As part of the @WHOSTP effort to attack the #COVID19 pandemic, @HPE is proud to join the High Performance Computing consortium. We commit to providing supercomputing software and applications expertise free of charge to help researchers run essential apps. https://t.co/Ojlk52OTLF
— Antonio Neri (@AntonioNeri_HPE) March 23, 2020
Academic partners include Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The Department of Energy National Laboratories, the National Science Foundation and NASA will also participate.
Trump’s rollout of the new partnership with the tech industry went notably more smoothly than a previous announcement Google was dedicating 1,700 engineers to build a virus screening tool.
It turned out Verily, another subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, was in the early stages of working on such a tool, but it was not ready for prime-time. Its initial pilot — which only worked in some Bay Area counties — sparked privacy concerns.
Tech companies have also explored ways to assist the administration outside of the formal consortium. Facebook said today that its Messenger product is offering free services to government health organizations. The tech companies have also had talks with the U.S. government about tracking the virus through phone location data, though my colleagues have reported those efforts have been complicated by privacy concerns.
BITS, NIBBLES AND BYTES
BITS: Amazon Prime deliveries for some products are now taking as long as a month as the e-commerce giant prioritizes household staples and other high in-demand items during the coronavirus outbreak, Jason Del Ray writes.
Merchants and shoppers reported that some items would not be delivered until April 21 – even though they are in stock and shipping with Amazon Prime that typically takes two days.
“To serve our customers in need while also helping to ensure the safety of our associates, we’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third-party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering items that are a higher priority for our customers,” Amazon said in a statement to Jason. “This has resulted in some of our delivery promises being longer than usual.”
Bezos is “wholly focused on covid-19 and on how Amazon can best play its role,” he wrote in an internal memo to employees on Saturday, Monica Nickelsburg and Todd Bishop at GeekWire report. The leader of the e-commerce giant faces growing criticism over how the company has handled the health and safety of its warehouse employees during the pandemic.
Amazon announced it would offer workers temporary overtime pay during the pandemic, which has strained the retailer’s warehouses with increased demand. It also plans on adding 100,000 warehouse jobs to meet increased demands.
“Across the world, people are feeling the economic effects of this crisis, and I’m sad to tell you I predict things are going to get worse before they get better,” Bezos wrote. “We hope people who’ve been laid off will come work with us until they’re able to go back to the jobs they had.”
NIBBLES: The Justice Department brought its first case against coronavirus scammers yesterday, winning a restraining order against a site selling fake vaccine kits to treat the virus, my colleague Matt Zapotosky reports. The case is a warning shot to a growing number of fraudsters seeking to take advantage of the fear and uncertainty created by the global health crisis.
The order comes after Attorney General William P. Barr urged U.S. prosecutors to prioritize prosecuting coronavirus cybercrimes and fraud last week. DOJ also recently launched a centralized system for reviewing coronavirus-related consumer complaints as well as increasing internal efforts to monitor “potentially problematic content on the Web,” an official told Matt.
The website, “coronavirusmedicalkit.com,” promised consumers access to vaccine kits from the World Health Organization in exchange for their credit card information and a payment of $4.95. No such vaccines exist and it’s unclear how many people paid for the phony vaccines.
Officials don’t know who is behind the wire fraud scam, but the domain-hosting site used by the fraudster was also named in the restraining order, Matt reports. “There’s fraudsters all over the world that will look at this epidemic as an opportunity,” a DOJ official told Matt.
Department officials are also monitoring a rise in robocall scams taking advantage of the pandemic, the official said.
BYTES: Major news organizations are showing ads sourced through Google for face masks on their websites, despite the tech titan’s promises to ban such promotions, Donie O’Sullivan at CNN reports.
CNN, the New York Times, CNBC and The Washington Post sites were all running ads for medical masks, Donie found. Public-health officials have urged individuals not to buy face masks while shortages for medical health professionals persist.
Google isn’t the only source of advertisements for major media companies, but the ads show that Google’s pledge to crack down on coronavirus profiteers is far from a success.
“We have a dedicated task force working to combat this issue and have removed millions of ads in the past week alone,” Google told Donie. “We’re monitoring the situation closely and continue to make real-time adjustments to protect our users.”
News outlets contacted by CNN said they were working with Google to keep the ads off their sites, but that they were limited in how much control they had over the ads.
“We continue to proactively block these ads, which we believe are disruptive to readers at a time when the world needs reliable information,” said Angela Ran He, a representative for the New York Times. “Unfortunately, our levers for control as publishers are limited.”
— News from the public sector:
Facebook will downgrade video streaming quality on its platform and on Instagram in Europe, the latest U.S. tech giant to respond to an EU call to stave off internet gridlock as thousands work from home due to the coronavirus outbreak.
American business practices long have shown the scars of national trauma: Devastating fires spawned major factory regulations. World War II hastened the entrance of women into the workforce. Analysts say the novel coronavirus pandemic could push broad societal shifts, with industry-wide disruption and a new normal for economic change.
Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, Laura Reiley and Abha Bhattarai
— Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged to donate “millions of masks” to health-care workers yesterday, Kim Lyons at the Verge reports. Facebook is also donating an emergency reserve of 720,000 masks and is “sourcing more,” chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday.
— More news from the private sector:
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