The DreamLab Corona-AI project is using the collective computational power of tens of thousands of smartphones to find ways of treating people stricken with Covid-19. Phase 1 is nearly complete.
Countries around the world may be slowly emerging from their coronavirus lockdowns, but the threat of the global pandemic is far from over. While survivors grapple with long-term complications as they recover, new cases continue to surge and spike daily.
Scientists are researching every possible treatment to fight Covid-19, which is where your smartphone comes in. With Vodafone’s DreamLab app, your phone could dramatically speed up this vitally important work.
Using the Corona-AI project in the DreamLab app, thousands of smartphones collectively undertake complex scientific calculations that would take a desktop PC hundreds of years longer to complete. It’s these calculations that could further scientists’ understanding of Covid-19 and how to treat it.
While potential vaccines against the novel coronavirus have dominated the headlines, preventing people from becoming infected isn’t what Corona-AI is about. Instead, it is looking for ways to treat people after they have contracted the virus – curtailing either the duration or the severity of Covid-19’s effects on their bodies.
Researchers at Imperial College London, who were key in designing the DreamLab app and the Corona-AI project, are focusing on the interactions between the virus and the human body’s own proteins.
It’s these ‘virus-host interactome networks’ that enable the virus to penetrate and take over the cells in our bodies where it can then make more copies of itself. To put it very simply, the more the virus can replicate itself inside a person’s body, the more severe and life-threatening the effects are likely to be.
Corona-AI is looking for ways to disrupt the complex interactions between these protein spikes and our cells, thereby stopping the virus from replicating.
It does this using a form of artificial intelligence (AI). During Phase 1 of the Corona-AI project, – more than 90% complete at the time of publication – the AI is modelling what effects existing drugs and food molecules might have on the genetic profile of Covid-19 in mathematical simulations.
The AI chooses which drugs and foods to examine based on insights from research scientists as well as on its calculations of what it thinks are most likely to succeed.
The scale of the job undertaken by Corona-AI is immense. The project is examining thousands of existing drugs and food molecules – examining them all in Phase 1 will take approximately 100 million calculations. This might seem insurmountable, but there are around 140,000 devices completing around 1.3 million calculations every night using DreamLab – that’s about 10 calculations per night per device. DreamLab’s combined smartphone processing power is several times greater than Imperial’s own supercomputer.