Image: Screenshot from ongoing online survey asking people if they’ve ever posted information social media about themselves or their family’s illnesses/ Credit: Ministry of Health, New Zealand
The Health Minister of New Zealand, Mr. Jonathan Coleman revealed that a new project is seeking to establish if tracking trends on social media and unconventional data can help predict outbreaks and further improve our responses to epidemics.
Minister Coleman said,“We’re in the midst of the cold and flu season, so trying to predict outbreaks of infectious bugs is top of mind. The Ministry of Health is trialling an innovative approach aimed at improving our response to epidemics by predicting outbreaks earlier.”
The project leverages alternative sources of information, including social media and a range of historic and current data sets, to detect trends that indicate the spread of infectious diseases.
The data being harnessed in addition to social media includes anonymised information about school absenteeism, employee sick leave, pharmacy sales of over-the-counter medicines, Healthline calls (Healthline is New Zealand’s national telephone triage and health service, funded by the Ministry of Health and provided by Homecare Medical since November 2015) and tissue sales.
There have been claims that luxury soft tissue sales surge at the start of influenza outbreaks. So, the project will analyse data on tissue sales to see whether not just the sale volumes but the types of products can act as an early epidemic warning.
People often post about being unwell on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, and the data can enable the detection of trends. Picking up on trends could help the Ministry of Health to put appropriate measures in place earlier to prevent the disease from spreading, and ensure sufficient stocks of medicines are available.
This project builds on existing monitoring programmes which work well to identify trends in communicable diseases using traditional methods, such as surveillance of lab results and data from general practices. The information is anonymised – it’s about numbers of cases, not the individuals.
There’s currently an online survey that asks people if they’ve ever posted information social media about themselves or their family’s illnesses. It has questions on the social platforms, the words used by the respondent to describe or refer to cold or flu-like symptoms. It also tries to gauge the willingness of people to use a short online form (like the one in the featured image above) to anonymously tell the Ministry when they or someone in their family is sick with flu-like symptoms.
The project is supported by the $888 million extra invested into Vote Health this year, taking it to a record $16.8 billion.
Instances of use of social media for tracking diseases
There have been several initiatives in recent years, where the use of information from social media for tracking the spread of diseases has been explored.
For example, during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US took advantage of social media posts made by users about possible symptoms and claims of possible outbreak of the H1N1 virus. In addition to traditional communication tools, social media was made an integral part of the outreach programme. In 2013, CDC launched the “Predict the Influenza Season Challenge” for participants to predicts the timing, peak and intensity of the 2013-2014 flu season using social media data.
HealthMap, a freely accessible, automated electronic information system for monitoring, organising, and visualising reports of global disease outbreaks, which incorporates social media data, noted a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” spreading in Guinea nine days before the WHO issued its first statement on the outbreak of Ebola.
The Minister for Finance, Minister for Women, and Minister for the Public Service of Australia provided updates on technology and digital identity-related legislation. The Minister delved into the topic of Digital ID and its significance for Australia’s future.
The primary focus of the address was the introduction of the draft Digital ID legislation, marking the commencement of consultations for the exposure draft. She highlighted that Digital ID is akin to an online version of presenting one’s passport or driver’s license to verify their identity but without relinquishing the physical document. It aims to provide a secure and convenient way to verify identity online.
The draft Digital ID legislation, now open for consultation, represents a significant milestone in Australia’s efforts to create a national Digital ID system. The Minister outlined four guiding principles for this system: security, convenience, voluntariness, and inclusivity. She stressed that Digital ID would remain voluntary, ensuring alternate channels for those who prefer not to use it.
Moreover, Digital ID is seen as a means to enhance inclusion by bringing government services online and extending their accessibility to underserved communities, including individuals with disabilities. However, the Minister emphasised that those unable or unwilling to obtain a Digital ID would still have access to government services through traditional channels.
The current system, which operates without legislation, allows individuals with Digital IDs to verify their identity without repeatedly providing sensitive documents. Nevertheless, it has limitations, as it is not yet a nationwide system and private sector providers cannot verify individuals against government-issued ID documents. The government envisions a national Digital ID system as an important economic, productivity, and security reform, and efforts are underway to address these shortcomings.
To ensure trust, data protection, and choice in the Digital ID system, the draft legislation establishes governance arrangements, a regulator (with the ACCC as the interim regulator), and privacy safeguards. Senator Gallagher emphasised the need for explicit consent for sharing identity information, the secure deletion of biometric data, and the prohibition of using identity data for direct marketing purposes.
Additionally, the Minster announced the formation of an AI taskforce, in collaboration with colleague Ed Husic, to ensure responsible and safe usage of AI across government agencies. AI has the potential to improve productivity within the APS and enhance government services, but it also requires careful management to mitigate risks.
The government is committed to creating boundaries and safeguards for emerging technologies like AI. The AI Taskforce will assess the risks and benefits of different AI systems within the public service.
The upcoming release of the first Long Term Insights Brief on AI and trust in public service delivery was also mentioned. Four key findings from the brief highlighted the importance of designing AI with integrity, preserving empathy in service design, enhancing public service performance, and investing in AI literacy and digital connectivity for all Australians.
The Minister expressed her determination to see the establishment of an Australian Digital ID system through legislation, despite the challenges and opposition. She acknowledged that it has been an eight-year work in progress, but she believes it is a worthy project with significant benefits for individuals, businesses, and the economy as a whole.
The address highlighted the importance of Digital ID legislation and AI governance in shaping Australia’s technological future. These initiatives aim to enhance security, convenience, and inclusivity while safeguarding individuals’ privacy and ensuring responsible AI usage within the public service.
Efforts to advance digital identification in Australia align with the country’s broader initiatives to establish a national Digital ID system, as discussed by the Minster. The focus of one pilot program, reported on by OpenGov Asia earlier, was on enabling individuals to prove their identity without the need for multiple physical documents corresponds to the principles of Digital ID outlined by the Minister, emphasising secure digital verification over physical information exchange.
Additionally, student volunteers from Deakin University demonstrated practical applications of digital identity within the education sector, mirroring the efficiencies mentioned by Senator Gallagher in her speech. These developments reflect Australia’s growing interest and innovation in the digital identification ecosystem.
Minister of PANRB Abdullah Azwar Anas stated that in 2023, the diplomatic relations between the Republic of Indonesia and Korea will reach its 50th year. Both countries continuously work to enhance their relations and cooperation, both bilaterally, regionally, and multilaterally.
In light of this, the governments of Indonesia and Korea are continuing their cooperation in Electronic Government Systems (EGS) through the Digital Government Cooperation Forum. This event, organised through the collaboration of the Ministry of Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform (PANRB), the Ministry of the Interior and Safety (MoIS), and the National Information Society Agency (NIA), discusses the implementation of cooperation in 2023 and the cooperation project plans for 2024.
“The closeness of this relationship and cooperation is certainly supported by the complementary nature of resources and advantages possessed by Indonesia and Korea, in addition to the excellent economic and political progress, making opportunities for cooperation in various sectors increasingly wide open,” said Minister PANRB Abdullah Azwar Anas.
In 2023, the governments of Indonesia and Korea embarked on a cooperation project related to digital ID development strategies and poverty alleviation digitalisation strategies. As for the extension of the DGCC cooperation project in 2024, there are several project proposals from the DGCC Committee, including support for government efforts in digitalising Nusantara City into a smart city focusing on intelligent government aspects.
“These cooperation proposals include the use of Big Data and AI for government administrative services, open-source technology-based designs, and big data designs in service provision,” explained Anas.
In his opinion, strengthening the strategic partnership between Korea and Indonesia for a shared future, especially in digital transformation, is not just an aspiration but a necessity. Indonesia’s digital transformation is already on the right track, where digital transformation serves as an accelerator for development acceleration.
Strengthening partnerships with Korea, one of the global technology industry leaders can bring Indonesia significant benefits. Korea has extensive experience and expertise in digital transformation and cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and 5G. Through knowledge sharing and close collaboration, Indonesia can accelerate the implementation of these technologies to support various sectors, including industry, education, healthcare, and public services.
Furthermore, strengthening this partnership can also open doors for investments in Indonesia’s technology ecosystem. With financial and technical support from Korea, Indonesian startups and technology companies can further develop their innovations and compete in the global market. This will create new job opportunities, drive economic growth, and strengthen Indonesia’s position in an increasingly interconnected international community.
“Interoperability of systems and applications continues to be pursued to realise integrated services nationally. However, we continue to strive and learn best practices from various countries, especially Korea, to strengthen digital transformation breakthroughs in Indonesia,” he said.
NIA President Jong Sung Hwang stated that in the future, his agency will actively assist Indonesia in digital governance, similar to what they did by establishing NIA in 1987 to support the digitalisation of the South Korean government. “The South Korean government used to have 17,060 silo systems, but they managed to integrate them all into an all-in-one service,” explained Jong Sung Hwang.
Jong Sung Hwang added that in the era of digital governance, everything should run smoothly, and data should be easily accessible. “Usually, data preparation takes a lot of time, but with data infrastructure, it can be done more quickly and data is easier to use,” he added.
In an era where technology defines many aspects of daily life, strengthening a strategic partnership with Korea in digital transformation is not just an option but a necessity. This step will help Indonesia address challenges and seize opportunities from the global digital revolution. With strong cooperation between the two countries, Indonesia can achieve a brighter and more sustainable future in the digital era.
A prominent player in the oats industry, tracing its origins back to its establishment in 1965, inaugurated a new cutting-edge oat processing plant in Malaysia. This company has consistently evolved and embraced innovation, establishing itself as a major contributor to the global export of oat products.
The recent success of this enterprise can be largely attributed to its strategic investments in cutting-edge technologies. The newly unveiled plant will have an expansive floor area and specialise in the production of a diverse range of oat products, including oat flakes, kilned dried hulled oats, oat bran, and oat flour.
Malaysian government officials and industry experts have lauded the expansion, recognising its positive impact on the local economy and its alignment with broader industrial development plans. The company’s emphasis on technology and production capacity not only benefits its supply chain but also enhances its position in the global market, particularly within the Halal food sector. Additionally, the increased capacity aligns seamlessly with national food security goals, contributing to the accessibility and affordability of food, especially healthy products.
The Deputy Managing Director of the company has emphasised their commitment to expanding their product offerings and capacity to meet market demands. With an impressive 58 years of experience in oat milling, they remain dedicated to innovation and sustainability.
The newly inaugurated oat processing plant uses state-of-the-art automation and advanced technology to ensure impeccable control over the entire oat milling process, guaranteeing consistency and quality in every product it delivers to the market.
This commitment to quality and innovation has been duly recognised by certifications from global food authorities, including FSSC 22000, ISO 22000, and HACCP, as well as Halal and non-GMO certifications. These certifications not only underscore the company’s dedication to delivering safe and high-quality products but also highlight its embrace of modern technology in food processing, ensuring that every product meets stringent global standards.
The plan is to explore ways to enhance its sales and marketing efforts. Leveraging data-driven strategies and digital platforms, the company aims to reach a wider audience and cater to the evolving preferences of consumers, particularly the younger generation.
Leveraging the new cutting-edge facility, the company is expected to extend its reach into the rapidly growing plant-based beverage and meat industries. Additionally, it will be unveiling a Captain Innovation Hub, scheduled for completion by 2028. This hub aligns seamlessly with the pursuit of healthier lifestyles, aiming to introduce a range of innovative oat products to the younger generation, all of which will be underpinned by advanced technology.
This move aligns with key initiatives of the Malaysian government. The advanced automation mirrors the government’s push for technology-intensive industries over labour-intensive ones, while its commitment to Halal certification bolsters Malaysia’s reputation as a provider of high-quality Halal products.
Furthermore, the company’s increased milling capacity and production of nutritious oat products support national food security objectives, and its global success contributes to Malaysia’s trade goals. The forthcoming Captain Innovation Hub underscores its dedication to innovation and sustainability, paralleling the government’s encouragement of forward-looking industries, ultimately showcasing how private sector enterprises can advance Malaysia’s economic and strategic aspirations.
OpenGov Asia has also reported that MIDA has signed a Collaborative Agreement with a global leader in intelligent sensing and emitting technology. A key component of this plan was the establishment of an advanced 8-inch microLED manufacturing facility in Kulim, Malaysia.
This facility, characterised by its state-of-the-art automation and technology, is a groundbreaking development in the global microLED industry. Construction of this pioneering facility commenced in 2022, and it is well on its way to completion.
In a resolute move to drive technological innovation and secure a prominent position on the global stage, China significantly bolstered its investment in research and development (R&D) in 2022. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that the country allocated an impressive 3.08 trillion yuan (S$422.1 billion) to R&D, marking a 10.1% year-on-year increase.
This surge in R&D funding underscores China’s unwavering dedication to advancing basic research and achieving breakthroughs in critical technologies.
The amplified R&D investment not only fuels technological innovation within Chinese enterprises but also enhances their core competitiveness on the international front. Experts believe that this substantial investment will inject a potent dose of momentum into China’s ongoing economic recovery.
The surge in R&D investment reflects China’s resolute implementation of an innovation-driven development strategy, positioning the nation as a science and technology powerhouse. This strategy equips China with a competitive edge in the fierce international arena, driving the creation of new growth engines.
Pan Helin, co-director of the Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Centre at Zhejiang University’s International Business School, underscores the pivotal role of continuous investment in basic scientific research.
He highlights its significance in fostering high-quality economic growth and promoting the intelligent transformation and upgrading of traditional industries. Pan calls for harnessing the leading role of enterprises in driving technological innovation, thereby ensuring sustainable progress.
Enterprises in China are indeed heeding this call, expanding their investments in vital sectors and laying a robust foundation for pioneering core technologies in key domains. The NBS highlighted the government’s commitment to providing continued financial support and encouraging local authorities to amplify their R&D investments while optimising the efficiency of capital utilisation.
China’s prowess in science and technology innovation has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years. The 2022 Global Innovation Index, released by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, positioned China at the 11th spot globally, making it the only middle-income economy within the top 30.
Further, Luo Zhongwei, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Industrial Economics advocates intensifying investments in cutting-edge and forward-looking fields, including quantum information, artificial intelligence (AI), biological sciences, new energy, and new materials.
According to him, these investments are essential to achieve breakthroughs in key domains through independent innovation, particularly as protectionism continues to rise in some countries.
China’s intensified investments in cutting-edge fields like quantum information and AI confer a multitude of advantages. This commitment propels China to a position of technological leadership on the global stage. By allocating substantial resources to these transformative technologies, China not only sets industry standards but also influences international trends and fosters innovation.
Besides, these investments fuel economic growth by catalysing the development of new industries and markets. Quantum information and AI have the potential to spawn high-tech startups, generate employment opportunities, and stimulate economic prosperity.
As China excels in these domains, it enhances its global competitiveness, exporting technological advancements, products, and expertise while strengthening its standing in international trade and diplomacy.
Also, this strategic move ensures China’s national security and technological sovereignty. Quantum information and AI play pivotal roles in safeguarding against cybersecurity threats and advancing military capabilities.
Likewise, these investments reduce China’s reliance on foreign technology, allowing greater control over critical infrastructure and ensuring resilience against external disruptions. Overall, China’s intensified focus on these advanced fields promises not only technological leadership but also economic growth, national security, and global influence.
The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) spearheaded an initiative aimed at promoting innovation and technology in the biotech sector, showcasing Hong Kong’s pioneering advancements and entrepreneurial spirit.
This initiative was part of the “Think Business, Think Hong Kong” event organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) in Paris recently. The event was a platform to underscore the potential for cross-border collaboration between Hong Kong and France in the field of biotechnology and innovation.
The CEO of HKSTP emphasised the critical purpose behind this endeavour. He pointed out the immense potential for synergy and cooperation between Hong Kong and French biotech ecosystems, highlighting their role in propelling startups and pharmaceutical companies to global prominence.
The journey of biotech innovation is long and arduous, and comprehensive support is essential. This initiative aimed to highlight Hong Kong’s ability to nurture and support biotech innovators throughout their growth trajectory and establish the city as a global hub for innovation and technology.
At its core, this initiative sought to underscore Hong Kong’s strengths in driving innovation to global success. It aimed to showcase the city’s unique ecosystem that fosters innovation and technology, making it a prime destination for biotech entrepreneurs. Moreover, it underlined the immense market potential in Asia as a growth engine for the global biotech industry.
The thematic session organised by HKSTP and the accompanying pavilion, titled “Unlocking Asia’s Opportunities in Healthcare Innovation,” was central to this initiative. These components received a warm reception from the French biotech and pharmaceutical industry.
Four distinguished biotech experts from Hong Kong-based ventures were featured, collectively illustrating Hong Kong’s capacity to lead in global innovation and technology. They highlighted the city’s potential as a gateway to the Asian market, positioning it as a central hub for biotech growth and development.
To further accentuate the significance of this initiative, a special gala dinner was convened, attended by influential leaders from the French, European, and Hong Kong business communities. Key dignitaries including the President of the Ile de France Region, the Financial Secretary of the HKSAR Government, and the Chairman of HKTDC were present. This gathering aimed to foster meaningful connections and collaborations that would propel innovation and technology in the biotech sector forward.
HKSTP’s initiative was not just about an event; it was about catalysing collaboration and innovation in the biotech sector. It sought to highlight Hong Kong’s unique strengths as a global player in biotech innovation and technology. By bringing together experts, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders, this initiative aimed to pave the way for groundbreaking advancements in biotech, positioning Hong Kong as a prominent player in the international innovation and technology landscape.
OpenGov Asia previously reported that the Government Chief Information Officer of Hong Kong led a delegation from the city’s innovation and technology (I&T) sector to the 25th China International Software Expo (CISE). The mission aimed to strengthen collaboration and explore business opportunities in the technology sector.
The Hong Kong Pavilion at CISE showcased more than 20 innovative I&T products and solutions sourced from esteemed competitions like the Hong Kong ICT Awards and the “Maker in China” SME Innovation and Entrepreneurship Global Contest. These exhibits covered cutting-edge domains such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, cloud computing, and biotechnology.
These innovations spanned sectors like fintech, smart construction site management, and digital entertainment, demonstrating the integration of digital technology into the tangible economy. To engage potential buyers and partners, the Hong Kong Pavilion featured a mini-stage for exhibitors to present their products and services.
This delegation’s participation in CISE emphasised Hong Kong’s technological capabilities and commitment to international collaboration. It aligned with Hong Kong’s goal of becoming a global hub for technological innovation in a rapidly evolving I&T landscape.
In a recent study, a team of researchers embarked on a journey to explore the potential of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets in medical consultations. This multidisciplinary team comprised several key members, including the PhD student Dilshani Kumarapeli, a Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Sungchul Jung, Research Associate Dr Yuanjie Wu, and their leader, Professor Rob Lindeman, who serves as the Director of the Human Interface Technology (HIT) Lab at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC). Their collective mission was to push the boundaries of how VR technology could be harnessed in healthcare, particularly in scenarios where access or risk factors might hinder traditional face-to-face interactions between doctors and patients.
On their research endeavours lay in developing a personalised VR experience, aptly called an asymmetric system. This novel concept represented a departure from the conventional applications of VR technology, such as video games. Unlike these familiar scenarios where users typically engage with identical systems and receive uniform information, the researchers aimed to create a personalised VR environment for each individual involved in the medical consultation process. This approach set their work apart, underlining its innovative spirit and the potential to revolutionise the healthcare landscape.
The research team believes that the bespoke VR system could enhance the doctor-patient connection, even when physical proximity is not possible. By tailoring the sensory experience to cater to individual needs, this system could be particularly beneficial for patients residing in remote areas, those with highly contagious diseases, or individuals with mental health conditions that might pose a risk of violence toward others.
Professor Lindeman emphasises the importance of trust in the clinician-patient relationship, and the VR system is meticulously designed to facilitate this trust-building process. It achieves this by focusing on relaying essential non-verbal cues like eye contact and facial expressions, fostering a sense of connection between patients and doctors despite the geographical separation. Simultaneously, the system provides clinicians with valuable physiological data that patients may have difficulty conveying verbally during remote assessments.
The data collected by the VR headset includes eye-tracking information, facial expressions, and pulse and breathing rate data. This data is then processed and interpreted by a connected software programme, empowering the clinician to make more accurate diagnoses and treatment decisions.
While the research team’s initial trials of the VR system involved UC students, their visionary approach to asymmetric VR technology suggests that its potential applications extend far beyond the confines of these experiments. They foresee its utility in many scenarios, with educational contexts being just one example. As technology progresses and is refined, the team is wholeheartedly dedicated to advancing the system for real-world implementation, recognising the transformative impact it could have on various sectors.
One of the achievements of this research was the development of emotion recognition software. Overcoming the challenge of capturing nuanced facial expressions while participants wore VR headsets required innovative solutions. To address this, the team employed a facial capture device and trained a neural network to discern and interpret critical emotions.
This technological breakthrough enabled the transmission of these emotions to the clinician, enhancing the effectiveness of diagnosis sessions. Kumarapeli reflected on this journey as an enriching experience, underscoring its profound implications for the future of healthcare and beyond.
In the realm of genomics, the study of an individual’s genes and their interactions with the environment is a pivotal field. The sequencing and analysis of genomic data hold the promise of advancing disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. However, researchers often grapple with specific genomic questions, necessitating access to extensive and diverse datasets.
To address this challenge, a data-sharing system has been developed by CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, known as sBeacon, which enables researchers worldwide to collaborate and exchange genomic information efficiently. This technological innovation is transforming the accessibility of genomic data, levelling the playing field for smaller and less economically advantaged countries and institutions.
At the heart of this transformation are beacon systems, a technology that securely transfers genomic data between global hospitals and research institutions. Each institution establishes its beacon, allowing researchers and clinicians to activate it for data requests or “queries.”
These queries are met with responses from a global network of participating institutions, each illuminating its beacon to share specific data facets. The system’s power grows with each additional beacon activated, with only 54 organisations adopting this technology as of March 2023.
However, envision a scenario where a faster, more cost-effective, and accessible system emerges. This vision is being turned into reality by a team of dedicated researchers aiming to remove barriers in genomic data sharing. Dr. Denis Bauer leads the team that leads the Transformational Bioinformatics group, driven by a passion for eliminating these barriers. Her vision is for every small hospital, health agency, and research facility to have the capability to activate their beacon.
Their collaborative effort with a national collaborative research partnership that is piloting a whole-of-system approach to integrating genomics into healthcare that is based on federation principles and Genomics England, a British company set up and owned by the United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Care to run the 100,000 Genomes Project, has yielded Serverless Beacon, or ‘sBeacon.’ Unlike other beacon systems, sBeacon is cloud-native, eliminating the need for a central database and ensuring data ownership remains with the institution, safeguarding patient information.
The technology introduces another groundbreaking feature—it charges institutions only when their beacon is queried, making it 1800 times faster and around 10 times more cost-effective than existing implementations. sBeacon significantly reduces entry barriers for smaller or economically disadvantaged organisations, facilitating their participation in the beacon network.
The goal is to make genomic data sharing more accessible and representative of diverse populations. Historically, less genomic data has been available from non-Caucasian groups, and sBeacon seeks to change this by welcoming more institutions into the beacon network.
Clinicians and researchers should have access to data that mirrors the population’s diversity, enabling more effective treatment of patients with complex diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular conditions. sBeacon offers real-time data analysis capabilities, potentially revolutionising the approach to these challenging medical conditions.
OpenGov Asia earlier reported that CSIRO is developing a DNA reference library which is set to transform how Australia monitors biodiversity along with the library’s first campaign which is supported by a founding partner.
The National Biodiversity DNA Library (NBDL) aims to create a complete collection of DNA reference sequences for all known Australian animal and plant species. Just like COVID-19 wastewater testing, it will enable DNA detected in the environment to be assigned to the species to which it belongs.