Boris Johnson Calls for a ‘Digital Dunkirk’ Against Coronavirus

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged several top tech firms to join the fight against COVID-19.

According to The Guardian, Johnson held a meeting with leading tech and artificial intelligence companies at Downing Street urging them to provide support to contain the outbreak.

The meeting, which saw Johnson give a “rousing” speech, was dubbed a “digital Dunkirk” and was attended by heavyweights such as Google’s London-based DeepMind artificial intelligence research unit.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and NHS chief executive officer, Simon Stevens, were said to have went around the tables to ask the companies what they could offer against COVID-19.

Palantir, the secretive data analytics firm, reportedly committed its engineering staff to the effort, while Uber and Deliveroo promised free rides for medical staff and “to keep hospital workers fed,” respectively. E-commerce giant Amazon offered video conferencing tools and other cloud computing services, gratis. London-based AI firm Faculty also volunteered support.

The importance placed on the meeting is a recognition that tech platforms – often facing a tough time from the government – can reach the population with accurate information in a way that many traditional media outlets cannot.

It is not the first time the government has turned to tech firms for help over the virus, but so far the response has largely focused on asking major social networks to improve the quality of messaging and reducing the level of online disinformation about the illness.

Photo: UK Government