Vitalik Buterin, co-founder of cryptocurrency Ethereum, donated USDC$4 million (a form of cryptocurrency) to the University of New South Wales for the project, which translates to approximately $5.3 million.
It is believed to be the largest known cryptocurrency donation to an Australian higher education institution.
Dubbed the “Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative” – after the breed of dog made famous by internet memes – the project is an open-source intelligence tool that works to detect the first signs of a pandemic.
It works by examining millions of publicly available online data items, such as social media and news reports, for early signs of epidemics.
The tool will further the development of the EPIWATCH, a similar tool developed by Professor Raina MacIntyre of the UNSW Kirby Institute, to detect epidemics much faster than formal reports from national laboratories and doctors.
Professor MacIntyre said Buterin’s gift will help the team make the tool more accessible to low- and middle-income countries.
“Imagine if someone had detected COVID-19 before it spread across the world – that’s our view,” she said.
“Using AI and open source real-time data, EPIWATCH doesn’t rely on people reporting. It’s a great equalizer and can overcome weak healthcare systems and censorship.
“To be most effective, it needs to be accessible in local languages and widely used at the grassroots level to villages and small towns around the world. This will give us the best perspective on pandemic prevention.”
Buterin said the open source technology aims to provide anyone with access to data that is already publicly available.
“The sooner we can detect new epidemics as they emerge, the faster we can start developing treatments or even stop them before they get big,” he said.
“Open analysis of public data is an excellent alternative to more intrusive forms of monitoring, which are also generally only available to governments and other large bidders, but closed to the public.
“On the other hand, an open source and open access approach that allows researchers, including members of the public, to work collaboratively around the world can be improved and more easily scaled to detect new pandemics wherever they start.”
UNSW Sydney Vice Chancellor and Chair Professor Attila Brungs said technology has the power to avert the world crisis ‘as we have 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,” said Professor Brungs.
“We have seen the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world over the past two years. By making EPIWATCH accessible in low-income countries, the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative has the potential to prevent future global crises such as pandemics.
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“It’s a powerful opportunity to drive significant social change and much better health outcomes, not just for people in these countries, but for everyone around the world.”