Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of cryptocurrency Ethereum, gave USDC$4 million (a form of cryptocurrency) to the University of New South Wales for the project, which roughly converts to $5.3 million.
It’s believed to be the largest-known cryptocurrency donation to an Australian higher education institution.
Dubbed the “Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative” – after the dog breed made infamous by internet memes – the project is an open-source intelligence tool that works to detect the early signs of a pandemic.
It works by scanning millions of items of publicly available online data, such as social media and news reports, for early signals of epidemics.
The tool will further the development of EPIWATCH, a similar tool developed by UNSW Kirby Institute’s Professor Raina MacIntyre, to spot epidemics far faster than formal reporting from national laboratories and doctors.
Professor MacIntyre said Buterin’s gift will help the team make the tool more accessible for low-and middle-income countries.
“Imagine if someone had detected COVID-19 before it spread around the world – that is our vision,” she said.
“Using AI and real-time open-source data, EPIWATCH does not depend on people making reports. It is a great equalizer and can overcome weak health systems and censorship.
“To be most effective, it needs to be accessible in local languages and used widely at the grass roots level down to villages and small towns around the world. This will give us the best prospect of preventing pandemics.”
Buterin said open source technology was about providing access to anybody data that was already publicly available.
“The earlier we can detect new epidemics as they come, the more quickly we can start developing treatments or even stop them before they become large,” he said.
“Open analysis of public data is an excellent alternative to more intrusive forms of monitoring, which are also often only available to governments and other high bidders but closed to the public.
“By contrast, an open source and open access approach that allows researchers, including members of the public, to work collaboratively across the world can be more easily improved and scaled to detect new pandemics wherever they begin.”
Vice-Chancellor and President of UNSW Sydney Professor Attila Brungs said the technology has the power to avert world crisis’ as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are delighted to receive such generous support from the Balvi fund to establish the Shiba Inu OSINT initiative,” Professor Brungs said.
“We have seen the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world in the past two years. By making EPIWATCH accessible in lower income countries, the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative has the potential to avert future world crises like pandemics.
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“It’s a powerful opportunity to drive meaningful social change and far better health outcomes, not just for the people in those countries but for everyone globally.”