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An alliance of companies led by Rolls-Royce will work to develop new ways to support businesses and governments as they recover from the economic impact of COVID-19, the automaker announced this morning. Google Cloud, IBM, the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, Truata, the Data City, and ODI Leeds have pledged to join Emer2gent, which will combine traditional economic, business, travel and retail data sets with behavior and sentiment data to provide new insights into — and applications to support — global recovery from the novel coronavirus.

The aim is to jumpstart an economy that’s anticipated to experience a downturn comparable to (or worse than) the Great Depression. According to the International Monetary Fund’s 2020 World Economic Outlook, the global economy will contract by 3% as a result of the pandemic — a steeper decline than the 2008 financial crises — and cumulative losses to the total gross domestic product from 2020 to 2021 will top roughly $9 trillion.

Members of Emer2gent will chiefly focus on data publication, data analytics, and collaborative infrastructure. The models they develop will identify lead indicators of economic recovery cycles, with the goal of getting people and businesses back to work. Organizations and governments will be able to use the alliance’s insights to make decisions, such as investments or policies, that could shorten or limit the recessionary impacts from the pandemic.

To kickstart the effort, Emer2gent set up a website for potential members to register their interest. Google Cloud says it will provide Google Cloud Public Datasets and Google Cloud BigQuery and IBM plans to make available its Data Science Elite consultancy and services that include IBM Cloud Pak for Data. And the Leeds Institute will offer secure data infrastructure, scientific expertise, and access to global academic research networks.

The first challenges were issued to the community this week, and all of the alliance’s outcomes and models will be published for free on the website’s blog and on GitHub. Personally identifiable information contained within the data sets will be anonymized, according to R2 Data Labs global director Caroline Gorski.

“We want the world economy to get better as soon as possible so people can get back to work. Our data innovation community can help do this and is at its best when it comes together for the common good,” said Gorski, who leads Rolls-Royce’s data innovation catalyst. “People, businesses, and governments around the world have changed the way they spend, move, communicate and travel because of COVID-19. And we can use that insight, along with other data, to provide the basis for identifying what new insights and trends may emerge that signify the world’s adjustment to a new normal after the pandemic.”

The launch of Emer2gent comes as people in the U.S. are beginning to protest social distancing restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many say they’re worried about the policies’ economic ramifications — today, the U.S. Labor Department reported more than 5 million new unemployment claims, and some economists estimate that the unemployment rate will surge to 16% by July.


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