Anti-crisis hackers join forces to find COVID-19 solutions

Participants prepare for the World Hackathon during the second day of the Jalisco Campus Party in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, 06 July 2017. [EPA/Ulises Ruiz Basurto]

An international community of hackers have embarked on a project to find innovative solutions to the everyday challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Hack the Crisis initiative was launched by the Polish government and the software development company DO OK on Tuesday (17 March), and has been backed by a conglomerate of global tech giants, including Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft.

On the launch of the project, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki noted the importance of using technological skills to help the daily challenges created by the recent coronavirus pandemic.

“Global challenges are when we need to show unity for the common good across borders and generations,” Morawiecki said. “I would like to invite all developers, experts and technology-lovers to aid our common fight against the virus in cyberspace.”

Submissions for the project run until this Sunday (22 March), and the Polish government will award ten cash prizes of up to 20,000 PLN (€4400) each for the most effective solutions, which will be decided upon by an international panel of judges.

EURACTIV talked with a couple of those on the panel on Wednesday, to hear more about the project.

“With our tech startup ecosystem in Europe, we want the most out of a terrible situation,” said Justyna Orlowska, the Polish prime minister’s high representative for government technology.

“Any startup in Europe can apply in our ambitious project to try and find the most innovative solutions to combat the difficulties brought on by the spread of the Coronavirus in Europe.”

“We’d also encourage normal citizens to get involved and apply for the prizes on offer. We’re looking for solutions to the difficult social challenges brought on by the period of quarantine that millions of Europeans will be living through.”

Submissions for the Hack the Crisis project are encouraged to address some of the pressing issues that have arisen in the current climate, including solutions that help with the problems associated with social isolation, education, as well as misinformation and fake news.

“These problems are not black or white, and they require creative solutions,” Antoni Rytel, Orlowska’s deputy, who is also on the panel for the competition, told EURACTIV.

“For example, in terms of the misinformation that we’ve currently seen circulating online, the sharing of such falsities may be unintentional – sometimes people don’t realise their role in the spreading of fake news,” he said.

“In terms of education, with the likelihood of more schools across Europe closing in the near future, we’d also welcome submissions that address the opportunities of digital education and e-learning.”

Rytel added that the social challenges experienced by those in quarantine will mean that technological solutions will need to be developed that can help ensure “the continued operation of supply chains, as well as helping those most vulnerable in society.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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