Thanks to some astute readers of this blog, and listeners to The Big Wakeup Call, I was introduced to a fascinating new app. Called NOVID, it’s way for you to assess your risk of catching the disease. While COVID-19 is not the most lethal virus known to man, that would be Ebola, it is, by far, the most pernicious. And, only now are scientists beginning to figure out how damaging it is. As of this writing approximately twenty percent of survivors suffer some degree of organ damage. I have a friend, who is all of twenty-five, who survived but with twenty percent less lung capacity. Since her old job required her to be active, she was forced to quit and find something new. It’s also possible that an additional ten percent may suffer permanent dementia, or related brain issues.
In other words, removing as many risk factors as possible, while still participating in life, is vitally important. I installed NOVID on my phone in under a minute. It does use your microphone – not to record your thoughts on anything but to register sounds like sonar does. Think of it as a high tech version of The Incredible Mr. Limpett, but without the comedy or Nazis. You can click on any NOVID link to get the app for free.
I was granted the opportunity to sit down, virtually – we’re not stupid, with Macy Hyland, Marketing & Communications Manager of NOVID.org.
Given how amazing the specs are for this, why isn’t every media outlet in the world talking about it?
That’s a good question, and it’s definitely not for a lack of outreach or constant innovation on our part. My best guess is that these unprecedented times have been a little overwhelming for journalists as a whole, and rightfully so. Our hope is that it continues to become clear how different and truly advanced our technology is so that it can get the coverage it deserves.
For those who may have missed that day in class, why is bluetooth bad at measuring distances?
Basically, using bluetooth alone is a formula for false positives. You might have noticed when connecting to your bluetooth headphones that you can leave your phone in one room while you’re in another and they’ll stay connected. So, when your phone is looking for “contacts” that you may have been exposed to, it’s likely to find your next door or upstairs neighbor and connect to them. Since you weren’t in the same room as them and neither one of you could have infected each other, but your phone doesn’t know that, this is a false positive connection and possibly exposure alert.
Given that there’s a subset of people who think GPS can count the hairs on their chins, I was surprised to see you don’t rely on it for measurements. Why not?
We don’t believe it’s accurate enough to do the contact tracing we’re striving for. It can give you a general idea of where you’ve been, but it puts no emphasis on human contact, which is how this virus is transmitted. Say you went to a grocery store at 10am, and there was an infected person in aisle 10 while you were in aisle 1. GPS is not precise enough to tell you anything that specific. You never had any contact with that person and therefore weren’t exposed. Secondly, we find GPS to be an invasion of privacy, as someone could see where you are at 3am every night, and our app functions on a principle of complete anonymity.
Did the lead mathematician, Po-Shen Loh a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, use an existing algorithm others just missed, or is this all new?
This is all new. Singapore was the first major app-based contact tracing approach, and they used Bluetooth. It appears everyone else followed them. Due to his understanding of physics, math, and computer science, Po-Shen Loh and the NOVID team observed from the beginning that Bluetooth would be too imprecise. They also were able to develop new methods of accurately detecting when sound waves were received (even in the presence of obstacles), using some fairly advanced mathematics (Fourier Analysis).
Side bar, under the tutelage of Mr. Loh, the United states has won The International Math Olympiad four years running. It’s doubtful the students from prior years were uneducated, so what does he attribute his success to?
In recent years, by the time Mr. Loh meets the students, they know more math than he does, largely because a vast amount of educational material is available on the Internet. The students on the International Math Olympiad team typically have spent countless hours self-studying various branches of math. Mr. Loh’s approach has been to travel the country, inspiring a great number of students to engage in this math learning. Before COVID-19, he used to go to a different city each weekend, giving public talks that were designed to attract students to the world of math. When working directly with the national team, Mr. Loh focuses on painting the picture showing how there is a clear pathway from the International Math Olympiad to future real-world impact. He was a previous member of the national team himself, and NOVID is his way of leading by example.
One of the attractive features, to me, about NOVID was the anonymity afforded the user. Why was that so important to the team?
It’s becoming clear through the process of manual contact tracing and the several non-anonymous apps that there is a lack of trust involved with revealing your identity and your health status. Manual contact tracers are struggling because people won’t provide important information or they won’t even pick up the phone. Here at NOVID, our goal isn’t to sell a product, it’s to stop the spread of COVID-19, and we know that the only way to do that is to allow people anonymity. We don’t know what the future holds, and we want people who use our technology to always have their information and their identity protected.
In layman’s terms, describe what NOVID does and how it maintains privacy.
NOVID is the world’s first (and currently only) anonymous contact tracing app demonstrably able to measure distance with the accuracy required for contact tracing. Our technology uses bluetooth and ultrasonic frequencies. We added the use of ultrasound to eliminate false positives associated with bluetooth alone and to give us the ability to literally measure the distance between devices. Download our app and you’ll notice that we show you exactly how far away you are from another NOVID-protected device. No other solution in the world is doing this. NOVID doesn’t just alert you if you’ve been exposed to the virus, we also alert you before you’ve been exposed. We do this with our brand new Early Warning Network and by sending exposure notifications as far out as three degrees of connection (you might receive something like “you were near someone who was near someone who was near someone who tested positive for COVID-19). Lastly, NOVID never compromises on your privacy. From the moment you download our app, we never ask you any questions and we never learn anything about you. You’re simply a number in our server that we don’t know, you don’t know, and nobody else knows either.
I kind of want to be THX-1138 in the server, but I guess my number doesn’t matter as long as the information is current and accurate.
I can’t stress enough how this is all anonymous. The goal is to stop this disease. No one cares about your porn habits, your side hustle, or any of the sleazy affairs you’re having. You’re just a number on a spreadsheet. If you remove the app all your data goes away too. No one can use it to track you down in any manner.
Stay safe, sane, and inside.
If you can’t do that, download NOVID and wear a fucking mask.