Siebel on Anonymizing Data

March 27, 2020

Marshaling AI resources to help fight Covid-19. C3ai, Microsoft and a half-dozen major universities launched a public-private research consortium, dubbed the Digital Transformation Institute, which will fund spend $367 million over the next five years on projects aimed at using artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies to understand and combat major social problems, including Covid-19 and future epidemics, the New York Times reports.

The consortium includes Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, the University of Illinois and the University of Chicago.

Newsletter Exclusive: Tom Siebel on’s challenges.

WSJ Pro’s Jared Council spoke with Tom Siebel, founder and CEO of, who said one of the most difficult challenges researchers face is anonymizing data.

AI systems need to analyze real-world data, such as medical records, in order to make predictions about where viruses will spread next. However, that data may contain information that could be used to identify people.

“[We need] to mathematically guarantee the anonymization of those data, or else they won’t give it,” he said. “And unless the researchers can get real-world data, they’re not going to be able to solve problems.”

Looking for ways to anonymize data. Mr. Siebel said the consortium will look to fund research teams working on methods to anonymize data in ways that are usable by AI. “And when [researchers] come up with those anonymization techniques and they go into the public domain, everybody in the world will be able to use them,” he said.