Open source code is on the front lines of COVID-19 fight
Posted on August 28, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a crisis like no other.
More than 10 million cases have been reported by the World Health Organisation, whose Director General recently stated that the “worst is yet to come” as infections continue to rise in the US and emerging markets.
Consequently, the global economy and world trade have been severely affected, and recent forecasts by the World Bank suggest that the global recession created by COVID-19 will be the severest since World War II.
With no drug or treatment expected in the near term to cure the virus, governments, organisations and businesses around the world are having to quickly find strategies to combat its spread. Success will rest on a combination of human ingenuity and cutting-edge technology, which is easily epitomised by the utilisation and exploitation of open source software.
For those not familiar, open source code is a set of instructions and statements written by a programmer using a computer programming language. It is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose.
Typically, it is freely available. Allowing developers access to the code means that open source software can develop and evolve rapidly through contributions from multiple developers.
As governments, scientists and medical professionals battle across the globe to contain the pandemic, many people and organisations are looking at technology to fight it digitally. Open source technology is at the front line of this effort and its community of developers are working together to share their knowledge and skills to directly combat COVID-19.
This has resulted in a huge range of tools to fight the pandemic including datasets, models, visualisations, web and mobile applications, and more.
European governments have been the first to seize on developers’ opensource offerings, with Germany, Ireland, Italy, Denmark and France all creating apps utilising open source to slowdown the virus, by automatically alerting users if they had been in contact with another who has tested positive for COVID-19.
An excellent example of this is the ‘Covid Graph’ project which has been developed by Neo4j, an open source graph database platform which uses artificial intelligence, advanced visualization techniques, and intuitive user interfaces to help researchers quickly and efficiently explore papers, patents, existing treatments and medications around the family of the corona viruses.
While data analysis is vital, open source can also support more “physical” means to practically and directly safeguard lives. 3D printing is currently being employed to support frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19.
Markforged, a leading manufacturer of 3D printing systems, is working with other businesses and partners to create a global network of over 10,000 cloud-connected industrial printers to support the creation of 20,000 face shields and a host of PPE equipment.
Clearly the challenges presented by COVID-19 are immense but not insurmountable. The current pandemic showcases the importance of collaboration, decentralised technology and access to information, as a means to tackle the world’s problems.
Having the ability to quickly discover and evaluate available digital public goods certainly makes a significant difference to handing the response to the pandemic and mitigating risk.
For business leaders, the successful response to the pandemic utilising open source should have very clear implications to its value for their own companies, many of which have had to pivot quickly and adopt remote working practices. This has forced them to accelerate their digital first strategies or even consider adopting one in order to survive and prosper.
With current business conditions being extremely tough and expected to only get worse as the global economic slowdown continues, open source provides a trusted and affordable means for companies to innovate and collaborate while trialling and leveraging new technologies and methods of working in the short and long-term.