White House urges researchers to use AI to analyze 29,000 coronavirus papers

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy on Monday challenged researchers to use artificial intelligence technology to analyze about 29,000 scholarly articles to answer key questions about the coronavirus.

The White House office said it had partnered with companies such as Microsoft Corp MSFT.O and Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O Google to compile the most extensive database of scholarly articles about the virus available to researchers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said they want help to better understand the origins and transmission of the coronavirus in aid of developing a vaccine and treatments. The coronavirus causes a respiratory known COVID-19.

The hope is that computers will be able to scan the research more quickly than humans and uncover findings that humans may miss, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, who works in the White House, told reporters on a conference call.

Machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence in which software is designed to detect patterns in data on its own, is already used in healthcare and other industries to develop summaries from large amounts of text. But before it can effectively draw conclusions, machine learning software sometimes needs to analyze millions of similar content items.

Only about 13,000 of the coronavirus articles are included in the new database in their entirety in a format that makes it easy for software to analyze, Kratsios said. The database contains partial text, such as summaries, of the other 16,000 articles.

The database and researchers' submissions are being hosted on Google's Kaggle service here, a popular tool for organizing machine learning competitions online.

Officials with the U.S. government along with American tech companies and research institutions said they rushed in the last few days to get legal permission from academic publishing companies and others to make the coronavirus papers widely available.

Microsoft Corp's MSFT.O chief scientific officer, Eric Horvitz, whose company's software helped curate coronavirus-related papers, told reporters the goal is to "empower scientists and empower (health) care practitioners to come to solutions more quickly."

“It’s really all hands on deck for this,” he said.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; editing by Jonathan Oatis