Students tackle Covid-19 in AI Hackathon


Students from across the University took part in a STEAM Innovation Hackathon, using Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools to better understand and solve a real-world problem – the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Computing Courses

Birmingham City University

Ten student teams competed to investigate the hidden knowledge inside a World Health Organisation dataset summarising Covid-19 daily-case and death-rates from each reporting country. Judges included PhD researchers and experts from university partners including Microsoft, IBM and NHS England. The event was sponsored by the Office for Students (OfS), BCU Students Union and the Hacking and Computing Soc.

The aim of the hack was to deliver AI-powered solutions which could inform medical research, policymaking and knowledge dissemination on the pandemic, as well as raising awareness among the public. Student teams were challenged to:

  • Tell the story of COVID-19 from the view of developing countries.
  • Predict the future cases and death rates for 5 countries in Africa.
  • Create a visualisation and a short blog explaining your modelling steps and results.

First place was awarded to Team 7, who were commended for their clear and well-constructed interpretation of the data, with engaging visualisations and narration, closely followed by runners up Team 1 and Team 2. Winners were awarded vouchers and prize certificates for their success.

Encouraging a multi-disciplinary and mixed-methodology approach to problem solving, the Hack placed an emphasis on the importance of promoting diversity of thought within the field of AI. At the closing ceremony, students heard a keynote speech delivered by Ibrahim Diallo, a Guinean Software Engineer at Thankful in the US, who has previously spoken to the BBC about experiencing loneliness as a Black programmer. Ibrahim said “If you have a field which is dominated by one group of people, the only way to innovate is to bring in someone new, someone who wasn’t here before. This is diversity.”

The OfS are offering a number of scholarships for outstanding Black, disabled or female candidates to study MSc Artificial Intelligence at BCU. As part of the Hack awards ceremony, student Alousseyno Prince was also awarded a £10,000 OfS scholarship to study the course, for demonstrating exceptional aptitude during the Hack. Addressing the teams, Andrew Bettany, Azure Skills Lead Higher Education at Microsoft said:

The MSc Artifical Intelligence course is open to any student with an existing undergraduate degree and does not require students to apply from a particular discipline. A number of OfS funded scholarships are available for women, Black or disabled students. Please email to find out more.

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