IBM announced that it is dedicating a large amount of computing power to help researchers better understand COVID-19 and ultimately search for potential cures. In addition, this year’s IBM Call for Code Global Challenge will take on both climate change and the virus. 

The 16 dedicated systems with more than 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores, 34,000 GPUs, and counting will allow researchers to quickly run very large numbers of calculations in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling that would otherwise take months if handled on slower, traditional computing platforms, according to IBM. 

In an example of effective supercomputer use, IBM’s Summit supercomputer enabled researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee to screen 8,000 compounds to find those that are most likely to bind to the main “spike” protein of the coronavirus, rendering it unable to infect host cells. It recommended 77 promising small-molecule drug compounds that could now be experimentally tested.

“IBM will work with our consortium partners to evaluate proposals from researchers around the world and provide access to this supercomputing capacity for the projects that can have the most immediate impact,” Dario Gil, the director of IBM Research, wrote in a blog post. “In a time of uncertainty, I want to offer this promise: IBM will continue to explore everything in our power to use our technology and expertise to drive meaningful progress in this global fight.”

In another effort to stifle the spread of COVID-19, IBM said that the technology solutions coming out of the Call for Code challenge will enhance crisis communication, ways to improve remote learning, and ways to inspire cooperative local communities.

For crisis communication, the proliferation of chatbots will help people understand everything they need to know about the virus rapidly – such as how to properly detect symptoms and what the local updates on quarantines are –  to free up customer service resources to focus on higher-level issues, the company explained. 

“From its inception, Call for Code was created to take on society’s most pressing issues, which is why we are expanding this year’s Challenge to address both climate change and COVID-19, two urgent crises that have the power to compromise our health, our planet, and our survival. We’re asking developers, data scientists, and problem solvers to answer the Call,” IBM wrote in a blog post.