Digital Planet Podcast BBC - Coronavirus Tech Handbook
11:19PM Mar 17, 2020
Hello, I'm Gareth Mitchell welcome along to Digital Planet today, a Coronavirus Tech Handbook, 3d printed hospital ventilators, and making AI more responsible so those are the topics for today, and we're going to discuss them with Bill Thompson Hello Bill.
So first let's talk about Corona virus, of course, unprecedented times unprecedented needs, and the tech community is banding together to help out and one incarnation of that is the Coronavirus Tech Handbook, a set of online resources aimed at anyone who's tackling the crisis so it could be doctors looking for latest medical protocols or journalists needing the latest fact checking resources, or possibly people needing advice about getting set up with remote working and attending online meetings. This all started off as a shared online document, but now even its founders surprised at just how much the guide has taken off, and expanded, one of the creators is Nathan Young of news, speak house in London, alongside having founded the Tech Handbook, or co founded the tech handbook Nathan is a political technologist, and he's been telling me more about that.
Hello there Gareth.
The Handbook is a set of Google Docs, and a set of WhatsApp groups, and it's just all connected with like a web link and then it'll sound too much. What it does, allows people to really easily add things they know about whether that's bereavement advice or whether that is maybe school resources related to Coronavirus, and also allows people to talk to each other, and those two things combined to create a really useful service.
So, obviously the talking to each other bit is really important. The other function is that, I suppose that collection of compendium of useful online resources, and these resources of course they're they're they're already on the internet. The whole point here is that they've been pulled together into one place.
Yeah. So, as much as all of us would like to pretend that we do a lot of research, or we do something really I mean you look at two or three things and then you're, then you're done. So, what you want instead is you have this big list of maybe data or dashboards, or report advice or anything. Then you can get a better sense for what's out there, maybe people can start ordering things and saying really this is the best resource to use it lets people make a bit more of an informed decision and lets people who are working on projects talk to one another, not make the same thing, which would avoid replication which would help people get a sense of what the field is developing. And what's happening very fast.
Yeah, of course, and it's very wide ranging isn't it I was looking at the tech handbook earlier on, and there's advice for doctors in terms of treatment protocols advice for somebody like me for instance working from home, I know all about working from home I learnt a whole lot through the resources that he pulled together. So, this is the audience is pretty much everyone isn't it.
So these kind of handbooks work really well when there are loads of people working on a problem without any sort of sense of leadership, and if you just kind of give them a blank space where they can put things and slowly people come up with sets they come up with. We started with just one Handbook, but then every time they gets too much we split it again I think that's happened maybe three times even today, so we added a section on libraries or resource libraries here, care homes bereavement support ventilators open source ventilators and translation, you know, doctors, doctors and nurses dream just keep adding these resources, and we just keep splitting it again, and we're looking for things around coronavirus so advice around coronavirus for doctors not just general advice.
But your point being that this is a community fair, could I call it a wiki approach so there's not one single brain during the curation or the editing here. Yeah.
Yeah, absolutely. In fact I think Wikipedia is like the real guiding sky in regard to this. I think people are just a little bit more familiar with Google Docs your average person feels a bit more comfortable but I think Wikipedia is absolutely the gold standard for this kind of thing. And again, we're not putting things, Wikipedia has its referencing rules, things have to have been in publication, as we're just going to hear about what everyone's working on you can make a project today and put it on tomorrow and tell everyone about it.
I suppose with Wikipedia, it's had the best part of 20 years now to develop very elaborate set of rules, as it were, and conventions, and I know quite stringent requirements on what it means to be a Wikipedia, as this coronavirus tech handbook scales, you're going to face problems about it people posting incorrect stuff in the community not being quick enough to take it down at the how's that gonna go and how might it be policed for want of a better term.
I think that is a problem that will likely be faced. I was chatting to somebody in government, this morning and they were saying that maybe you might have to get sign off for something, you know, so, the government really has to be very very careful, whereas we can be much more dynamic and we come up with solutions and of course there are like risks there. And so we are trying to keep up to date as we can. But I think the important thing to note is this is a tech handbook it's not for members of the public it's for people who are developing solutions. And so there has to be a certain element of skepticism. When you see a solution is this really working again, this is not for members of the public to find things. This is for people who are journalists, maybe find tools, this is for the doctors for scientists or people running schools, everybody's going to be an expert coming to this talking to other experts.
You've got that aspect, I suppose of what you have that Wikipedia doesn't have is this bolted on WhatsApp element. So you have this live chat and collaboration, as part of it.
Yeah, I mean I think possibly there is some of that behind the scenes. But yeah, I mean for us, it's very easy to think of this as like a library, but a library might also have a coffee shop, and in that coffee shop, you might end up with some people building communities. And I think I think that people don't necessarily realize when they first is that the value from this comes in creating the communities. There was a doctor. She started with Dr section. And now that doctor section has got together for doctors all over the world. And now they've moved to slack and they're building tools and they're building advice, they're getting all the protocols together. Some of the community of doctors didn't exist, which came, and now it's kind of, to some extent left us a bit, but that's great I mean we're a community formation. And then, you know, communities can move elsewhere and get other things done.
Yeah, but the main thing is just getting the right people and the brightest people and the most collaborative people in the room, virtually speaking anyway. And, yeah, and I'm struck by the amount of contacts the, you seem to have with the British government so it's the hope is that you're putting together with these resources and these bright people and that in some way might be leading into policy.
So first of all well yeah I mean we have governments from from all over the world have been contacting us people from from from all levels. I mean I don't want to overstate yeah we've been really impressed by the level of of buy-in we've had it I wouldn't say it's gonna affect policy what I'd really love it for effective is if government, they saw the solutions which were being generated by the community and thought, how could we attach him to that, rather than building their own solutions, maybe government could signpost maybe government could create a solution which connects to that all of these different things. Government doesn't need to rebuild and they don't need to reinvent the wheel instead what they can do is work with the community and the community is really really really fast and really developing some great stuff from a lot of these issues.
That's Nathan Young, and he talks to Bill Thompson about fast moving community and this is I'm sure one of many ways of bringing that community together.
It is, I think what they've sort of captured the desire by lots of people to be involved, and to do something people acknowledge and then people who are researching or to know where to come to find some sort of Opportunity Information.
And you mentioned on he mentioned about the differences with Wikipedia. It's interesting because Wikipedia has taught pages associated with every article, and there's a conversation going on the choice to use WhatsApp, which is like a more modern and less structured communication whereas it seems to be quite a sensible one given they're trying to bring in lots of disparate communities, and they don't want people to have to create accounts in order to be able to be part of this community.
Alright, so it makes it more nimble and I know that the co founders until they are surprised at how much. This has grown so it's quite a scalable enterprise really.
Well, it is I mean that is a very scalable is already something that's very important they built on the success of something they did a couple years back called the Election Tech Handbook which was a larger UK focused It was about technology around the UK general election. And that worked very well. So I think Ed Saperia and Nathan Young the people needs to be hence mentioned realized they could do something, using the same techniques that would work for this very different situation to this crisis situation. The real point that Nathan medical says anybody can get involved is for experts. Yeah, this is not this will not tell you what to do this will give you something to look at and then you should use your professional expertise and judgment to decide whether it makes sense or not, it's not just an advice service.
Yeah. Okay, got that. Great Bill, thank you very much indeed for that and I know that.
transcribed by @patrickm02L