Down­load­ing a so­lu­tion

The ques­tions that still re­main

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce -

The NHS’ long-awaited con­tact-trac­ing app for Eng­land and Wales is fi­nally avail­able to down­load. But with the re­lease of the app come a se­ries of ques­tions about its func­tion­al­ity, as well as a more fun­da­men­tal con­cern over whether dig­i­tal con­tact trac­ing can re­ally make a dent on stop­ping the spread of Covid. Here are five unan­swered ques­tions:

Will enough peo­ple down­load the app for it be ef­fec­tive?

Con­tact trac­ing apps only work when they reach a crit­i­cal mass of the pop­u­la­tion. Re­searchers ini­tially ar­gued they needed to be on more than half of peo­ple’s smart­phones in or­der to re­duce the spread of coro­n­avirus, but sci­en­tists have since cal­cu­lated that if one in six peo­ple use the app it could help cut deaths.

Will con­tact trac­ers be able to reach older peo­ple who can’t ac­cess the app?

Any­one us­ing an iPhone 6 or older iPhone won’t be able to use the app, mean­ing it will be vi­tal for tele­phone call con­tact trac­ing to con­tinue its work.

Is the app go­ing to mis­tak­enly tell peo­ple to self iso­late be­cause of false pos­i­tives?

Ap­ple and Google’s con­tact trac­ing sys­tem al­lows gov­ern­ments to fine tune how their app works, ad­just­ing the time and close­ness of a “con­tact” be­fore it reg­is­ters in the database. NHS em­ploy­ees be­lieve they’ve tuned the app to re­move false pos­i­tives by mea­sur­ing when the po­ten­tial coro­n­avirus car­rier was at their most con­ta­gious, ac­cord­ing to BBC News, but we’ll only be able to tell over time whether the app avoids this.

Will peo­ple re­mem­ber to scan QR codes?

A ma­jor func­tion of the NHS app is scan­ning QR codes on of­fi­cial printed posters in restau­rants and bars to help trac­ing ef­forts. But there are con­cerns that these posters won’t work well if peo­ple fail to scan them. Sev­eral res­i­dents of Ne­wham, where the app was tested, said they were con­fused by the posters.

Can con­tact trac­ing ac­tu­ally stop the spread of coro­n­avirus?

Gov­ern­ments and tech­nol­ogy busi­nesses around the world have in­vested mil­lions into build­ing this soft­ware, but we don’t yet have con­clu­sive proof that the apps are ef­fec­tive in firstly track­ing the virus and then help­ing peo­ple iso­late. Matthew Green, a cryp­tog­ra­pher at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, told Na­ture that “this could all turn out to be garbage. None of it could work. We have to try.” James Cook

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