Communication / Event

What role for artificial intelligence in managing the Covid-19 pandemic crisis?

Changed on 18/05/2021
On May 21, the Inria London program is co-organizing, alongside the French Embassy in the United Kingdom and the Franco-British Data Society, a webinar entitled "Covid-19 & AI: Unexpected challenges and lessons". Benjamin Guedj, scientific director of the Inria London program, explains the objectives and ambitions behind this event.
IA et Covid
© Unsplash / Photo Clarisse Croset


This past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the important role of scientists in our society. Statisticians, epidemiologists, data scientists and artificial intelligence researchers - to name a few! - have indeed contributed to the production of analyses, tools and platforms to better understand, among other things, the dynamics of the spread of the virus and the effectiveness of social distancing policies.

Based on this observation, the Higher Education, Research and Innovation Department of the French Embassy in the United Kingdom has decided to organize on May 21, 2021, in partnership with the Inria London program and the Franco-British Data Society, a webinar on the role of artificial intelligence in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Its objective: to highlight the various initiatives of the academic world and the industry around the subject, during the last 15 months, and the way artificial intelligence has been invited in the efforts to fight and help live with the pandemic.

The webinar in four questions with Benjamin Guedj, scientific director of the Inria London program

How did this webinar come about?

The Inria London program is one of the major international projects carried out by the Institute within the framework of the COP. All of this is part of the very strong momentum we have been building in the UK for over two years. Locally, we also benefit from the strong support of the two embassies (British and French), with whom we work closely. 

In this context, I have very regular exchanges with the French Embassy in the United Kingdom, which naturally turned to Inria - and its British bridgehead, the Inria London program - to co-organize a webinar on artificial intelligence, a theme that is in line with the Institute's specialties, associated with current events - the Covid-19 pandemic - in order to benefit from its expertise. This is an important sign of confidence that the Embassy has shown in our Institute, and a great opportunity for collaboration.

How was the panel of speakers composed?

As co-organizer and moderator of the webinar, I was asked by the Embassy to compose the panel. I tried, on the one hand, to gather profiles that could bring different points of view and skills, while preserving parity.

We will therefore find three Inria researchers - including myself - and three British guests who will represent the vision of the interactions between artificial intelligence and Covid-19, from a research point of view, the management of a large university (University College London, our historical partner for the Inria London program) and the articulation of the National Health Service (NHS).


  • Benjamin Guedj, Research Scientist at Inria, France; Principal Research Fellow, University College London, UK; Scientific Director of The Inria London Programme;

  • Geraint Rees, Dean of the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences, UCL Pro-Vice-Provost (AI), Professor of Cognitive Neurology at University College London and Director of UCL Business;

  • Emilie Chouzenoux, Research Scientist at Inria;

  • Hugues Berry, Inria's deputy scientific director for the fields digital biology and digital health;

  • Mihaela van der Schaar, John Humphrey Plummer Professor of Machine Learning, AI, and Medicine, University of Cambridge; Director, Cambridge Centre for AI in Medicine;

  • Kassandra Karpathakis, Head of AI Strategy at the NHS AI Lab at NHSX.

The feedback aspect of the research and collaboration with APHP and the Gustave Roussy Institute will be provided by researcher Émilie Chouzenoux (Saclay, OPIS project team), who was a member of the Covid-19 mission. Mihaela van der Schaar will share, on the British side, the contributions of her team in statistical learning (machine learning). This will allow us to raise the question of the scientific responsibility and the statistical culture of the political decision-makers, in particular.

We will also try to bring a more "meta" and transverse vision (carried by Hugues Berry on the Inria side and by Geraint Rees on the UCL side) of how an institute or a university of global scope can be made to work. Kassandra Karpathakis, Director of Strategy for the NHS AI Lab, will bring the institutional point of view of the British public health service. Finally, I will be in charge of moderating the exchanges between the different speakers.

What will this webinar contain?

Several topics will be covered during this event. We will, on the one hand, identify the research themes that have been impacted by the pandemic, but also -and in another sense- analyze how the fight against the pandemic has benefited from contributions in artificial intelligence, in a broad sense.

We will, for example, see how the situation was able to guide certain tracking applications, or how, as part of the covid-19 mission at Inria, we were able to set up a certain number of devices to fight the pandemic.

The idea is to highlight certain initiatives that have enabled us to respond to the current pandemic and, above all, that could enable us to respond to the next one. This is the meaning of the title chosen by the Embassy: unexpected challenges and lessons.

Who is the target audience for this webinar?

This one is aimed at a wide audience, not necessarily scientific, as the Embassy wants to offer events to all its expatriates. It is stimulating, because it will require us to give a global vision rather than a specialized one, to allow the public to appropriate the subject.

This webinar has a double objective for the public: to present the efforts made by the research community (especially in fields that are a priori remote) to fight against the pandemic, and to question the change in the way our societies look at research and researchers.

Covid-19 & AI : Unexpected challenges and lessons