Digital Herd Immunity

Time to give coronavirus a taste of its own medicine by isolating it from your daily herds – friends, families, colleagues, strangers. Empower each other to protect your herds and push coronavirus into the corners of least harm. Start to regain the pre-corona landscape.


That is the promise of Digital Herd Immunity



Healthcare institutions, scientists and governments need more reliable data to make better decisions and policies regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to scaling up testing globally, the wide-spread mobile supercomputers we carry around everywhere will play a crucial role in that mission. Leading players in the market, Apple and Google, are joining forces to turn our smartphones into accurate and secure contact-tracing instruments that can create a valuable dataset for our doctors, scientists and policy-makers. However, to make that dataset usable for all those key stakeholders, we need to create the most intelligent and trustworthy application yet. Full of beautiful contradictions such as: global but local, complex but user friendly and trustworthy but open. 


That our smartphones can become vital contact-tracing  instruments is also amplified by researchers at the universities of Princeton, Berkeley and California in their article ‘Digital Herd Immunity and COVID-19’. They argue that in the era of the ubiquitous smartphones, it is possible to create immunity to viruses even if nobody (or a too small percentage) of the population is immune. They prove that, through the development and application of smart contact-tracing protocols, it is not only possible to trace back the spread of COVID-19, but also to preventively isolate specific (local) groups in a population whereas other groups (of that population) do not have to be in isolation (or ‘lock-down’). According to these researchers it is possible to render a usable dataset that, if embedded in the right digital toolset, could lead to Digital Herd Immunity that allows societies to stay (partly) open during a novel virus outbreak, such as the current Coronavirus. 


Digital Herd Immunity (DHI) is a method to open up societies responsibly while populations are not immune for the novel Coronavirus. It seems to entail two missions:


  1. Scale-up testing globally and apply digital contact-tracing to positive cases nationally.

  2. Use national test and contact-tracing data to implement and execute policies locally.  

While the first mission takes place on a global level and is mainly concerned with enormous logistical, medical and privacy challenges, the second takes place in our local worlds and is filled with challenges about ease-of-use, flexibility, consistency and adaptation. We say to our governments: you focus on mission one, we worry about mission two, we, the people. 

Smartup Zero should be seen as a roadmap to create Digital Herd Immunity (DHI), a form of immunity against viruses facilitated by the application of smart contact-tracing protocollen in a digital toolset that operate locally. It might not be the road that is the simplest and quickest, but it sure is the road that can get most of us there. Moreover, it will get us better equipped and prepared for what is next. Nobody seems to be exploring this road but a few curious explorers that are all, whether they know it or not,  following the expedition that computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart took in the hay days of the personal computer (1960-1970). His legacy includes the invention of the computer mouse, hypertext and bootstrapping and is best described by ‘boosting mankind’s capabilities to deal with urgent and complex problems’. The road we are walking is paved by his methodology of utilizing our collective IQ


If we succeed in building this platform with the Smartup framework, we created two extremely useful things. On the one hand we have helped reach Digital Herd Immunity so we can stop hoping for the best and start preparing for the worst. On the other hand we proved that the people can gain the power they need to change their culture, through people-owned technology. 



Digital Herd Immunity and Covid-19

Universities of Princeton, Berkeley and California

Vir B. Bulchandani, Saumya Shivam, Sanjay Moudgalya, S. L. Sondhi


STUDY Abstract:

A population can be immune to epidemics even if not all of its individual members are immune to the disease, just as long as sufficiently many are immune – this is the traditional notion of herd immunity. In the smartphone era a population can be immune to epidemics even if not a single one of its members is immune to the disease – a notion we propose to call “digital herd immunity”, which is similarly an emergent characteristic of the population. This immunity arises because contact-tracing protocols based on smartphone capabilities can lead to highly efficient quarantining of infected population members and thus the extinguishing of nascent epidemics. When the disease characteristics are favorable and smartphone usage is high enough, the population is in this immune phase. As usage decreases there is a novel “contact tracing” phase transition to an epidemic phase. We present and study a simple branching-process model for COVID-19 and show that digital immunity is possible regardless of the proportion of non-symptomatic transmission. We believe this is a promising strategy for dealing with COVID-19 in many countries such as India, whose challenges of scale motivated us to undertake this study.