As someone who has spent his entire career in Open Source, I’ve been closely following how Open Source is being used to fight the COVID-19 global pandemic.
I recently moderated a panel discussion on how Open Source is being used in trenches with regards to the coronavirus crisis. Our panel included: Jim Webber (chief scientist at Neo4J), Ali Ghodsi (CEO, Databricks), Dan Eiref (senior director of product management at Markforged) and Debbie Theobold (CEO of Vecna Robotics). Below are some of the key takeaways from our discussion. They show how Open Source is a force for good in these uncertain times.
How does Open Source technology enable knowledge sharing?
Providing accurate information related to COVID-19 is an essential public service. Neo4J worked with data scientists and researchers to create COVID❋GRAPH. It is an Open Source graph database that brings together information on COVID-19 from different sources.
Jim Webber from Neo4J explained, “The power of graph data [distributed via an open source management system] is that it can pull together disparate datasets from medical practitioners, public health officials and other scientific publications into one central view. People can then make connections between all facts. This is useful when looking for future long-term solutions.” COVID❋GRAPH helped institutions like the Canadian government to integrate data from multiple departments and facilities.
Databricks CEO Ali Ghodsi also spoke to his company’s efforts to democratize data and artificial intelligence. Their mission is to “help data teams solve the world’s toughest problems.” Databricks created Glow, an Open Source toolkit built on Apache Spark that enables large-scale genomic analysis. Glow helps scientists understand the development and spread of the COVID-19 virus. Databricks made their datasets available for free. Using Glow's machine learning tools, scientists are creating predictive models that track the spread of COVID-19.
Amid the positive progress we’re seeing from this open approach to data, some considerations were raised about governments’ responsibilities with the data they collect. Maintaining public trust is always a huge concern. Still, as Ali said, “The need for data is paramount. This isn’t a matter of using data to sell ads; it’s a matter of using data to data to save lives.”