A team of one staff member and two students from the University of Iceland is among just under 50 finalist teams in an international challenge to design prediction models for the coronavirus pandemic. This is the only team from Iceland to make it through to the finals, competing for a prize of USD 250 thousand, or just over ISK 30 million.
The competition is run by the US companies XPRIZE and Cognizant and is entitled Pandemic Response Challenge. The challenge is about harnessing data and AI to predict infection rates and patterns and to propose strategies for regional policy-makers, health authorities and communities to minimise the impact of the pandemic and ensure safe vaccine delivery. It also aims to advance the use of AI and data in addressing other humanitarian challenges.
The competition began in November when 200 teams entered and delivered their solutions for the first part of the challenge. After assessment by an independent judging panel, 48 teams from 17 countries were selected in late January to take part in the final stage of the competition. One of the teams selected was “Klakinn” from Iceland. The team is made up of Alexander Berg Garðarsson, data scientist at the University of Iceland, and two BS mathematics students: Kári Rögnvaldsson and Rafael Vias. They have all been involved in the work by the University of Iceland and partner organisations in developing a prediction model for COVID-19 here in Iceland, led by Thor Aspelund, professor of biostatistics. Tómas Philip Rúnarsson, professor at the University of Iceland Faculty of Industrial Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science, has also helped the team in an advisory role.
The trio's task in the final stage was to further develop their model, taking into account vaccinations and various other data, to propose strategies for ensuring the safe reopening of society and minimising infections. The deadline to submit their work was 3 February and the results of the competition will be announced at the end of the month.
There is a lot at stake as the two teams judged to have submitted the best prediction models will share a prize of USD 500 thousand, around ISK 65 million.
However, the potential benefits are no less significant for communities around the world, many of whom are now struggling with rapid transmission of the coronavirus. To date, over 100 million people have been infected and 2.3 million died.