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.
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 organise that?
“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 anonymised 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 brings 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.
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.