Ethereum founder donates $5.3 million to UNSW to build pandemic prevention tool

Ethereum founder donates $5.3 million to UNSW to build pandemic prevention tool

Vitalik Buterin and Raina MacIntyre (Provided)

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin has donated USDC$4 million (AUD$5.3 million) to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in order to support the development of a warning system designed to prevent future pandemics.

The gift - delivered through Buterin’s Balvi Filantropic Fund - will be used to establish the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative and help UNSW’s EPIWATCH open-source intelligence (OSINT) tool access low-income countries.  

Buterin’s contribution is UNSW’s first-ever crypto gift and is believed to be the largest crypto donation accepted by an Australian university.

“The earlier we can detect new epidemics as they come, the more quickly we can start developing treatments or even stop them before they become large,” Buterin said.

His donation was made with USDC – which is a stablecoin that is designed to be redeemable at a ratio of one-to-one since it is backed by US dollar-dominated assets held at regulated and audited US financial institutions.

“Open analysis of public data is an excellent alternative to more intrusive forms of monitoring, which are also often only available to governments and other high bidders but closed to the public,” Buterin said.

“By contrast, an open source and open access approach that allows researchers, including members of the public, to work collaboratively across the world can be more easily improved and scaled to detect new pandemics wherever they begin.”

EPIWATCH - which was developed by UNSW Kirby Institute’s Professor Raina MacIntyre in 2016 - works by scanning millions of items available online (such as social media and news reports) for early signs of epidemics.

Using vast amounts of data in real-time, the OSINT tool can detect changes to what is considered ‘normal’ reports about health concerns. According to UNSW, this method is considered to be far quicker than waiting for formal reports from doctors or laboratories.

“Imagine if someone had detected COVID-19 before it spread around the world – that is our vision,” MacIntyre said.

“Using AI and real-time open-source data, EPIWATCH does not depend on people making reports.

“It is a great equaliser and can overcome weak health systems and censorship.”  

Up until now, EPIWATCH has been funded by grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). With the additional backing from the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative, it will be used to access low and middle-income nations.

“To be most effective, it needs to be accessible in local languages and used widely at the grass roots level down to villages and small towns around the world,” MacIntyre said.

“This will give us the best prospect of preventing pandemics.”

UNSW vice-chancellor and president Attila Brungs said the university is “delighted to receive such generous support from the Balvi Fund to establish the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative.”

“We have seen the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world in the past two years. By making EPIWATCH accessible in lower-income countries, the Shiba Inu OSINT Initiative has the potential to avert future world crises like pandemics.

“It’s a powerful opportunity to drive meaningful social change and far better health outcomes, not just for the people in those countries but for everyone globally.”

It comes after the cryptocurrency market plunged yesterday, with Bitcoin one of the hardest hit in the sell-off - diving by around 13 per cent to below USD$25,500 and dragging down other popular coins like Ethereum and Cardano in the process.

Around USD$1 trillion was lost across the entire crypto market in total yesterday, with the crash encouraging some die hards to buy the dip, resulting in BTC rising by 1.26 per cent today from the latest low.

Even some stablecoins crashed yesterday, including Terra - the value of which is usually tied to the value of the US dollar. Terra's value fell from US$1 - where it is meant to always be trading at - to USD$0.60 yesterday.

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