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Harnessing "the magic of AI" to mitigate the next pandemic

Monday, 4 March, 2024

UCD Discovery and the UCD Clinton Institute are delighted to host the eminent UCD Discovery Global Visiting Fellow Professor David Hickton, Founding Director, University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, at the upcoming event,  “AI & the Next Pandemic”. Taking place on Tuesday, March 5th , 18:00 - 20:00 at the  William Fry Theatre (L143), UCD Sutherland School of Law on UCD campus, the keynote will be followed by a panel discussion with Sana Zakaria, Jacky Fox and Dr. Forrest Crawford, moderated by Dr. Eugenio Lilli. (opens in a new window)Register now

David Hickton describes the Covid-19 pandemic as “a very expensive learning curve”. 

The former US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania was appointed Staff Director of the bipartisan committee on coronavirus in the US Congress in 2020, where he oversaw trillions of dollars in federal relief funding to tackle the crisis.

Today he commends the swift vaccine rollout and the way in which the US and other economies rallied. But he also points to the serious challenges posed by unequal distribution of vaccines, poor forecasting and widespread shutdowns of schools and businesses.

“What we want to do now is harness the magic of artificial intelligence to make improvements for when we have the inevitable next pandemic,” he says - and this will be the focus of his upcoming keynote at UCD.

“I'm going to hopefully scope out what the landscape looks like and how we can learn from the last pandemic and perhaps harness AI to do a better job next time. We've put together a really first rate panel of experts, two of whom are public health experts affiliated with RAND Corporation - Forrest Crawford and Sana Zakaria - together with Jackie Fox, Accenture Security EMEA Lead in Ireland.”

Testing, tracking and tracing are some of the best ways to contain the spread of disease during a pandemic. But this proved problematic in the US, the only developed country in the world without a universal healthcare system. 

“We had resistance to testing when you talked about tracking people. Many Americans were resistant to the privacy intrusion.”

There is what Hickton calls a “trust component” to getting people onto the same page during a pandemic. He says a “huge piece” of his work during the pandemic was tackling disinformation online about both the virus and the vaccines. 

He adds: “There is a tension between security and privacy; but it is a false choice and the demand for privacy is a little bit different in the United States than it is in Ireland, Europe and the rest of the world. We have to navigate that balance.”

The UCD event will focus on four themes predominantly: a medical discussion around biology and biostatistics; a defence and data security conversation; a pandemic response debate about artificial intelligence; and another about how law and policy might best protect the common good.  

AI and the Next Pandemic takes place a month after World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, said civilisation was “unprepared” for the next pandemic.  

Hickton adds: “There are still 600 people dying of Covid every day in the United States. We act like this problem is behind us. Yet what we surely know, whether we look backwards to Ebola, where we dodged a bullet, or forwards to the next pandemic, and there's some warning signs in countries around the world right now with regard to certain illnesses that could spawn a pandemic, is that it's almost inevitable that we're going to have another pandemic. It would be just a shame to not get ahead of it. And that's what I think we are trying to achieve with this forum in UCD.”

(opens in a new window)Register now