On the podcast: Possibilities and limitations of digital contact tracing

Lee: Given that history, it’s no surprise, then in March of 2020, Josh founded the COVID-19 Technology Task Force, a volunteer coalition of leaders across public health, tech and business sectors aimed at providing the public sector with engineering and resources to accelerate society’s recovery from COVID-19.

So, Josh, what did you see from your time on the task force about the potential for tech to work with government, in specifically the health care field, to address this pandemic?

Josh: At the beginning days of the task force, I don’t think any of us understood the scope and the scale of what was going on. But what we did know from all that experience is that technology can play a really substantial role in helping governments respond. And by their very nature, when there is a disaster of such magnitude, it really does fall on governments to coordinate the response. In fact, one of the challenges I think we found in the United States is what happens when the usual frameworks, notably a federal-led response, aren’t necessarily there, how do you empower decision-makers, whether those are policymakers or public health officials in this case. How do you empower them to have all the information they need to make the right call? And then how do you give them the right tools to take a limited set of services and expand them to touch as many people as possible? So that was the genesis of the task force. It was taking something very informal and really [helping] it achieve an impact in real time, dynamically in an insane situation, you know—one we’ve never really found ourselves in before.

Lee: Josh is no longer leading the task force, but an early focus area for the group was contact tracing. With tech giants Apple and Google coming on the scene with their exposure notification app, the task force is focused on developing privacy solutions around contact tracing.

Josh: The privacy implications are vast. You know, as you get to some of the more digital implementations of contract tracing, which many hope is the faster way to do things, folks are really unified around a standard that Google and Apple have promulgated. There’s this question about uptake and trust and what does that look like. Will folks, in fact, use these apps? Will they feel comfortable using these apps? What are the risks and consequences of using these apps?

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