SynSapien provides platform for ‘virtual’ collaboration – and works with researchers to develop early-detection device for pneumonia
A platform for innovation inspired by Qatar Foundation is bringing people from around the world together to accelerate tech solutions to humanity’s greatest challenges – and developing a device that could lead to COVID-19-induced pneumonia being detected faster.
Larger, more diverse groups have a wider pool of knowledge to draw upon when solving a complex challenge. However, without the right systems, it can be chaotic
SynSapien is an Artificial Intelligence-driven web application that enables innovators from different countries to collaborate, with the aim of co-creating new technologies tackling urgent and complex issues such as climate change – breaking down the barriers that physical distance can install. Ultimately, it aims to create a ‘virtual’ global community of one million innovators.
Its team is now working with researchers from around the world – with 14 countries already involved – to create an early detection device that clinically vulnerable people, such as elderly members of society who have to self-isolate amid COVID-19, can use to raise the alarm if it indicates they may be at risk of pneumonia, and be treated before the infection takes a firmer grip.
According to Basil Mahfouz, SynSapien’s Co-Founder and an alumnus of Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university Georgetown University in Qatar, the platform aims “to bring together a global community of innovators, and give them the tools to create open source technology effectively”.
“Innovation results from a diverse group of people being involved in a project,” he said. “Larger, more diverse groups have a wider pool of knowledge to draw upon when solving a complex challenge.
“However, without the right systems, it can be chaotic. Our platform helps large groups to collaborate in a structured way so they can design and develop technologies more swiftly.
“We asked ourselves ‘what does it take to get ideas and inventions off the ground?’ There are several barriers to innovation: access to expertise and knowledge; Intellectual Property concerns; and being able to collaborate, brainstorm, and ideate at scale. If you have 500 people from different parts of the world wanting to solve a problem together, how do you organize that?
We want to unlock the ability of people to innovate together, which improves the quality of the solutions that emerge. People don’t need to be in the same place to think and act creatively
“We’ve created a platform that allows this to take place digitally. We want to unlock the ability of people to innovate together, which improves the quality of the solutions that emerge. People don’t need to be in the same place to think and act creatively.”
Through SynSapien, users input their interests and expertise, and the platform’s algorithm matches them to ideas, projects, and other collaborators. Once they select a project they want to be part of, they enter an anonymized collaboration space which currently allows up to 300 people to share and propose ideas, contribute data, provide feedback, and make decisions.
The platform also addresses the issue of how Intellectual Property rights are distributed by measuring the contribution each person makes to a project – the time they spend on it, the ideas they put forward, and how their peers rate their contribution – and producing an “influence score”.
Mahfouz’ eyes were opened to the possibilities that a platform like SynSapien could create through his time studying at QF, and the interdisciplinary environment at Education City that has been created by the organization over the past 25 years, bringing together students from nine different universities, researchers, innovators, and a vast expanse of different ideas and perspectives.
“Having the best of so many disciplines on one campus highlighted to me the value of interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said.
The interdisciplinary nature of QF is reflected in what SynSapien enables people to do
“At QF, every discipline and area of knowledge and expertise is next door. You have engineering students, medical students, business students, design students, and people studying other disciplines all having conversations together. I spent four years in this culture, and it showed me the value of connecting with people from different disciplines and what that can lead to.
“You realize that people think differently and you can think differently too. It can take people a lifetime to realize that, but QF brought it home to me. The interdisciplinary nature of QF is reflected in what SynSapien enables people to do.
“There are so many things about the world that need fixing, and it’s not just about waiting for scientists to do that – everyone can contribute, in a million different ways. Analysis from a different perspective can create greater understanding of a problem or bring new knowledge to the task of solving it. “
“We now have the tools to work together in large groups, digitally rather than just physically, and invent something that makes a difference. There’s no reason why we should work in outdated models and structures when organizing ourselves differently can produce better innovation. And the climate change issue is not going to be solved unless we change the way we do things – by bringing more brains and minds together, we can develop more effective solutions, and avoid the risk of good ideas being lost simply because people don’t know where or who to take them to.”
SynSapien is currently running six projects, which include sustainable air-conditioning, a vertical farm that can operate in harsh desert conditions, and a decision-making tool to help institutions make better choices amid deep uncertainty. The latest is the early detection device for pneumonia, a low-cost oximonitor, with Mahfouz saying: “One of the biggest problems clinicians face with treating COVID-19 patients is that they don’t know if a patient will develop chronic conditions such as pneumonia until the patient exhibits visible symptoms. The problem is that by the time a patient shows these symptoms, the infection has become more severe and difficult to treat.
“The device we are working with researchers continuously monitors oxygen saturation and other vital signs in the blood, and uses machine learning to alert carers or loved ones in case of hypoxia, enabling clinicians to intervene earlier and with more effective medication. It’s a really interesting project, and we’d love students and researchers from Qatar to be involved in it.”
One of the drivers of SynSapien is the desire to show people across the Middle East who want to develop solutions to global problems that they can do so. “With issues such as climate change, the impact on the Middle East could be disproportionately higher than anywhere else, because of our extreme weather and challenges such as food security, water security, and economic diversification,” said Mahfouz.
“We need new solutions from the Middle East, for the Middle East, to move us toward a more sustainable future. We have enough talented people across this region to develop solutions to our own challenges, without importing them from elsewhere. But they need to be driven forward by people working together. Through SynSapien, we want to make that possible.”
For more information about SynSapien, visit www.synsapien.org. To join the oximonitor project, visit www.synsapien.org/oxiproject