Vector Institute repurposing AI infrastructure to support Ontario’s COVID-19 health data project

The Toronto-based Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence is repurposing artificial intelligence computing infrastructure in order to support data-intensive analysis and decision-making for Ontario’s Pandemic Threat Response (PANTHR) project.

“I am deeply proud of the Vector Institute’s community of scientists who have not hesitated to contribute their expertise.”

The Vector Institute had already purchased 240 RTX6000 graphics processing units, which are designed for multiple high-performance computing applications, including deep learning. The hub says it will repurpose this technology to allow researchers to process large amounts of data and allow for deeper insights into the current pandemic. The institute is also planning to provide data science expertise as part of this initiative.

PANTHR was created by the provincial government due to the current need to analyze and better detect, plan, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the project, the province has committed that PANTHR will free up access to de-identified, integrated data on publicly-funded administrative health services records. The health platform will additionally contain clinical data from special registry collections, such as the Critical Care Information System, which reports on critical care capacity in the province.

Vector Institute is working on this project with the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society at the University of Toronto, as well as its resident experts in data privacy, ethics, and governance. Vector Institute is hoping to help guide Ontario’s policy and procedure implementation to uphold privacy and security.

“The ability of machine learning tools to identify patterns and make accurate predictions based on large volumes of data is well documented,” said Garth Gibson, president and CEO of Vector Institute. “Over the last three years, the Vector Institute has been building a community of over 400 machine learning and inter-disciplinary experts in areas such as privacy, data governance, chemistry, economics, and health.”

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“I am deeply proud of the Vector Institute’s community of scientists who have not hesitated to contribute their expertise to combat this pandemic, and this necessary infrastructure will ensure Ontario benefits fully from Ontario’s high concentration of world-class machine learning practitioners,” Gibson added.

Gibson said the high computing power of these 240 processing units will allow researchers to better understand critical issues related to the pandemic. The issues that Vector Institute will be looking to help solve for include risk of spread to vulnerable people, asymptomatic transmission, supply chain stabilization for ventilators and personal protective equipment, localized social distancing measures, and the allocation of resources such as tests, ventilators, and staffing.

“Better access to integrated data will improve modelling and research to determine how COVID-19 is evolving, ensuring frontline staff are as prepared as possible in these unprecedented times,” said Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, when the PANTHR project was first announced on April 12.

“While access to data is important, we are taking all measures to ensure patient privacy is always respected and Ontarians are aware of how anonymized information may be shared,” she added.

Image source University of Toronto

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Writer, globetrotter, drone pilot & David Attenborough enthusiast