Google Cloud CEO on how its tech is supporting the fight against Covid-19
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Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has revealed details of how the firm’s cloud-based collaboration and artificial intelligence (AI) tools are supporting public sector agencies, retailers and healthcare institutions across the world in their response to the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

In a lengthy blog post, Kurian outlined details of the wide variety of projects the Google Cloud team is now actively involved in, as its technologies are used to support the responses of workplaces, educational institutions, medical facilities and government agencies across the world to the coronavirus pandemic.

One such project is the creation of an AI-based chatbot that can be deployed by government agencies to respond more quickly to issues raised by citizens, and manage the surge in communications many of them are dealing with as a result.

The firm is also rolling out free content delivery network tools and loan-balancing services to shore up government websites that might be struggling under the weight of the traffic they are dealing with at the moment, as citizens seek out the latest information on the virus.

“In the US, we are working with the White House and supporting institutions to develop new text and data mining techniques to examine the Covid-19 Open Research Dataset (Cord-19), the most extensive machine-readable coronavirus literature collection to-date,” said Kurian.

Google Cloud is also working with the regional government in Madrid and the national government of Spain, Kurian continued, by providing tools that can assist it with mapping the spread of the virus.

At the time of writing, Spain is second only to Italy in terms of how deadly the outbreak has been to-date, with more than 8,000 deaths reported so far. “In Spain, we’ve set up an app for the regional government in Madrid to help citizens perform self-assessments of coronavirus symptoms and offer guidance, easing the demands on the healthcare system,” said Kurian. “The Spanish national government is also planning to deploy this app across other regions in the country in the coming days.”

Healthcare Industry

From a healthcare industry perspective, Google’s cloud-based business productivity set of tools, G-Suite, is being used by 70,000 employees working in the healthcare system in the Veneto region of Italy to co-ordinate patient care through the outbreak.

At the Oklahoma State Department of Health in the US, Google Cloud technologies have played a role in the creation of an app that enables healthcare staff to engage remotely with people at risk of developing the virus, or who are experiencing symptoms and need assistance locating their nearest community testing site.

“We worked with our partner MTX Group to create the app and are now deploying it with governments in Florida, New York, and many other states so they can use our tools for insights into how the virus’s spread is affecting citizens and state healthcare systems,” said Kurian.

The Australian government’s Department of Health is also hosting an app on Google Cloud to provide citizens with real-time information on how the coronavirus pandemic is progressing across the country.

The use of G-Suite is also being “explored” within the UK National Health Service (NHS), Kurian confirmed, as means of providing healthcare staff with access to real-time information on hospital occupancy levels, including within accident and emergency departments.

“Healthcare is the most impacted industry during the pandemic, and technology can be a critical tool to help,” said Kurian. “We’re providing solutions for the health research community to identify new therapies and treatments, and assist hospital systems with tracking the pandemic and providing telehealth and remote-patient monitoring solutions.”

The company has also joined forces in the past week with a number of other players in the healthcare and technology space, including its public cloud rivals Microsoft and Amazon, through the Covid-19 Healthcare Coalition initiative.

It aims to create a data exchange that allows participants to share and analyse data safely and securely to accelerate medical breakthroughs pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak.

As previously documented by Computer Weekly, some retailers have found the pandemic has led to unseasonal surges in online sales of certain items, which is putting huge amounts of unexpected pressure on their websites and mobile apps.

To help its clients work through such issues, Google revealed that it has activated its “Black Friday/Cyber Monday Protocol” for retailers and other businesses that are experiencing exponential traffic increases at the moment. “[This means] bringing professional services, technical account managers and customer reliability engineering resources together to support, plan and react to user demand during these peak times,” the company said.

Rounding out the post, Kurian also lifted a lid on the steps Google is taking to ensure its own cloud infrastructure is  equipped to cope with the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

“We’re prepared – we’ve activated remote customer service agents and our enhanced support protocol for peak periods, we’ve detailed plans to manage our capacity and supply chain, and we’ve rigorously tested the resilience of our infrastructure and processes. All of these preparations have been put in place to ensure we can best support our customers during a time like this,” he said.

“We’ll continue to work tirelessly on these and other initiatives to support our users, customers, and communities in this time of need. I’m so grateful to the many extraordinary Cloud Googlers that have worked so hard to provide so many capabilities for our customers.”