The Canadian Innovation Ecosystem is Now Well-represented in the PathCheck Community

Right from the start, the Montreal innovation ecosystem mobilized and organized itself around different initiatives that would seek to use technology to assist with the worldwide threat that the COVID-19 pandemic represented. Like in most other major scientific and technology hubs in the world, one such initiative was an exposure notification project that was initiated with the objective of deploying a mobile application that could assist with different components of the during- and post-COVID strategy. Key institutions in the AI ecosystem, along with partners in the social and academic sectors, engaged in a quest to cover all dimensions of this complex endeavour—and within a record time. As these projects moved forward, it became clear that technical challenges were as important as those related to social acceptability of technology, public health policy, ethical and privacy concerns and finally to the political landscape. Although an initiative developed elsewhere in the country was eventually (and only recently) deployed in the province of Quebec, the combined experience of a multidisciplinary cluster of scientists, developers, professionals, and entrepreneurs remain. We are happy to join PathCheck as a group of individuals who were part of this enormous collective effort that took place in Montreal as a response to the pandemic. As we link up with this effort, our objective is to contribute the Canadian expertise and experience to an already rich community and together fulfill our moral responsibility of putting technology at the service of the common good while remaining true to the principles we as a society have chosen to adhere to. COVI Canada Project

When the sanitary crisis reached Montreal and the lockdown started, a project was initiated under the aegis of the Montreal Institute of Learning Algorithms-MILA and his scientific director Prof. Yoshua Bengio, to develop a contact tracing mobile applications capable of leveraging state-of-the-art algorithms and a range of data sources to evaluate and report to users their individual risk of exposure to COVID-19 in a non-binary form and through an architecture that is ethically responsible and privacy preserving. At its apex, the project had over one hundred researchers, students and professionals forming a multidisciplinary team working around the clock towards developing a functional non-binary contact tracing mobile application. Although a first version of the application was ready for release, concerns regarding privacy and adoption as well as a misunderstanding of the artificial intelligence technology layer were at the heart of a public debate that ended up with the government of Quebec ruling out the use of such technologies in their COVID strategy. In the aftermath of such a decision and as the myst of initial disappointment receded, an objective self-assessment exercise revealed blind spots during the project and lessons learned emerged. It was clear that state-of-the art technology was just a component of the larger picture that required input from other disciplines to guarantee public acceptability and multiply adoption. Logistical coordination with health authorities had to find in the mobile application a vehicle for relaying information but also a tool for management of testing operations in order to effectively provide citizens with an app they could turn to for information and actionable insights that would help them navigate through their daily activities in this new normal. A simple exposure notification mobile application can easily become useless, from a crisis management standpoint, even when downloaded by the millions if there are no other layers of utilities for the everyday decision making that individuals must confront as they make their way into the new reality. 
 
Joining PathCheck
We believe that artificial intelligence has an impactful role to play as well but issues of acceptability and adoption must be figured out first before we can add a layer of technology that will ultimate deliver a personalized risk assessment based on non-binary exposure notification that effectively helps individuals, health authorities and decision makers alike in their efforts to contain and manage the spread of the pandemics. In this context and with this strong conviction, we join PathCheck with the hope of bringing our experience and expertise to an already rich and diverse community. 
    
New Core Volunteers at PathCheck
Dr. Brooke Struck is Research Director at The Decision Lab, a socially-conscious applied research firm based in Montreal. TDL conducts behavioural research, consulting and interventions to promote social good. His favourite projects are with clients who have a stubborn problem that's worth solving and who are willing to collaborate intensively to achieve meaningful change. Using his signature critical style, Brooke unpacks the challenge to find out what's really at issue. From here, he draws on a rich, interdisciplinary background to develop solutions that actually work and that the client can realistically implement. His approach relies on strong relationships (with clients as well as a diverse network of experts) married with an unwavering focus on impact. He was the Behavioural Lead on the COVI project. Before joining TDL, Dr. Struck consulted in evidence-based policy and data-driven decisions, advising clients such as the European Commission, the US National Science Foundation, and the Government of Canada. He holds a PhD in the philosophy of science.

Manuel Morales, Ph.D. Professor at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Montreal. 
His research is in the field of data science and applied machine learning in finance and banking where he has worked on several collaborative research projects with the financial sector. In particular, he joined National Bank of Canada where he took up the role of Chief Artificial Intelligence Scientist and led the efforts on creating a comprehensive governance framework for all AI deployments. At the break of the pandemics and having developed an interest in technology governance, he worked, as a research associate at the International Observatory of Societal Impacts of Artificial Intelligence, on one initiative that aimed at drawing recommendations on responsible deployments of COVID-19 contact tracing mobile applications and other technologies. During the same time and as the pandemic lock-down continued, he started collaborating as external advisor to one Mexican jurisdiction as they undertook the development of their COVID-19 contact tracing mobile application. Despite decisions made by some jurisdictions not to pursue the use of exposure notification mobile applications, he believes that these technologies still have a role to play in defining COVID and post-COVID strategies in the months to come. He joins PathCheck to keep working towards facilitating adoption of exposure notification technologies as an integral part of the toolbox of a comprehensive handling strategy for the current worldwide health crisis we are facing.           
  
Richard Janda. McGill University
Professor Richard Janda teaches at the Faculty of Law of McGill University. He is currently leading the Myko project (www.myko.org), which explores how to connect everyone to the environmental footprint of their choices in real time. He was the Outreach Lead for the Covi Canada project and worked on the privacy law dimensions of the project. He has written, among other things, on corporate social responsibility, digital law, and theories of justice.

Yun William Yu, PhD. Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Toronto
I am generally interested in developing novel algorithms for bioinformatics applications and translating existing tools from the CS literature to biology. More specifically, my primary research themes are on probabilistic sketches, compressive algorithms, and private distributed analyses of medical data. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, much of my work has been on analyzing the privacy of algorithms for digital contact tracing, which was my role on the COVI Canada team. In this context, I am excited about working with PathCheck in the interest of better understanding the role and limitations of exposure notification technologies.

Dr. Abhinav Sharma. Assistant Professor at McGill University. Department of Medicine, Divisions of Cardiology and Experimental Medicine
Dr. Sharma completed his medical school and internal medicine from McMaster University and his cardiology fellowship from the University of Alberta. He completed his PhD in epidemiology with a thesis focusing on the intersection of diabetes and heart. He went to Duke University to complete a cardiovascular research fellowship (05/2015-05/2017). Following this, he went to Stanford University and completed an advanced heart failure and cardiac transplantation fellowship (06/2017-05/2018). He continued as a Postgraduate Visiting Scholar at Stanford University in digital health (06/2018-01/2019). His research on digital health focuses on how to optimize health behaviors in order to improve cardiovascular health. He has won numerous local and international peer reviewed grants such as the European Society of Cardiology young investigator award, The Heart Failure Society of America young investigator research grant, and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society Bayer vascular award