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Quebec considering a new contact tracing app for use in containing coronavirus

Quebec Premier François Legault said the province is in talks with a Montreal AI institute, which has developed a contact-tracing app.
Collin Jones The Post Millennial

Quebec Premier François Legault said the government is in talks with Mila, the well-known Montreal artificial intelligence institute, which has developed a contact-tracing app in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19.

The app, known as COVI, was revealed by Mila's CEO, Valérie Pisano, and the company's founder, machine-learning pioneer Yoshua Bengio on Tout le Monde en Parle Sunday, according to CBC News.

Pisano mentioned that her team is currently working with a number of cities and provinces, as well as the federal government, to implement COVI, which utilizes Bluetooth technology and user input to aid in assessing whether someone may be likely in contracting the virus.

"We're considering using this application," said Legault Monday.

He added that if Quebec decides to move forward with the app, he hopes Ontario will follow suit.

Quebec is currently relying on individual investigators within health agencies to do contact tracing—the laborious task of finding individuals who have come into contact with someone they know to be infected.

Montreal public health has made an effort to hire hundreds of people with expertise in healthcare to call Covid-positive individuals and ask them to do their best in remembering who they have come into contact with. The investigators then follow up with the people mentioned and inform them that they have been exposed to the virus.

Pisano said that asymptomatic people make the process of slowing the virus that much more difficult with the system that is currently in place.

"Scientific research basically shows that the traditional manual process that we usually use in pandemics is not going to be sufficient with Covid," she said.

"At Mila, we saw an opportunity to create a contact-tracing app that would go beyond simply notifying people when they're exposed, but would actually be a tool for helping individuals make decisions every day."

The app calculates daily risk levels based on the overall data it collects, including how long someone might have been exposed to someone who is known to have Covid-19.

Pisano pitched the app as being more productive than other contact-tracing apps out there because it is able to assess the probability that is someone is carrying the virus, even those who may be asymptomatic. And if someone is likely to have the virus, the app will advise them to self-isolate and get tested immediately.

The issue with the app is gaining the public's trust, as several countries around the world have used invasive measures to track the app.

"I think that we should be very deliberate in deciding whether we want to go the route of contact tracing [apps], because that is going distinctly into surveillance," said Professor Derek Ruths, a McGill University computer scientist.

"The moment that information is getting collected to be used for aggregate or individual analysis, that's when we start getting into trouble, from a privacy perspective," Ruths said.

Pisano was sure to add that all the information will be encrypted and eventually destroyed. She said she would know in the coming weeks if any governments would be interested in implementing the app.

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