The novel coronavirus has infected more than 415,000 people and killed at least 18,500 in 160 countries from Jan. 20 through March 25. These figures come from the WHO Situation report released on March 25. In addition to the terrible loss of life, the virus has devastated the global economy, throwing millions of people out of work across the world. (Entrepreneur.com)
Because of lockdown measures enacted by many governments, economic activity has slowed to a crawl across the world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that the world economy could be slammed by the worst economic growth rates in more than 10 years. The OECD also stated that the economic growth rate could be as low as 2.4%, possibly causing many countries to slide into recession.
COVID-19 has become one of the biggest challenges facing the world in the 21st century. Complicating the response to COVID-19 are the areas of uncertainty around the virus, as far as how it spreads and the best ways to treat it.
How AI Can Join the Fight Against COVID-19
As more research information emerges about the virus, the data on it grows exponentially and is beyond the capacity of humans to handle by themselves. Artificial intelligence can identify patterns from large datasets and is becoming extremely important in how the crisis is being handled.
With China as a case study, that country’s success with AI as a crisis mitigation tool shows how useful it is. It also justifies the money that has been invested in AI over the last several years.
Advancements in artificial intelligence applications, such as natural language processing, data analytics, speech recognition, deep learning, chatbots, and facial recognition have been used not just for diagnosis but also for vaccine development and contact tracing. AI is definitely helping to control the pandemic and to curb its worst effects.
With China’s developments and gains in AI, other countries can come together to share their expertise to expand the current capability of AI and be sure that AI can be used to deal with the coronavirus in other parts of the world.
AI has been used on the COVID-19 pandemic in several ways to date:
Surveillance is vital with an infectious disease such as the novel coronavirus. Human activity, such as migration, is responsible for how the virus has spread around the globe. BlueDot, a Canada company, has used machine learning and natural language processing to recognize, track, and report how the virus has spread faster than the WHO and the CDC in the United States.
In the near future, technology like this might be useful to predict zoonotic infection risk to people, while considering variables such as human activity and climate change.
The combined analysis of clinical, travel and social data, including lifestyle and family history gleaned from sources such as social media, would allow more precise and accurate predictions of healthcare results and individual risk profiles. Concerns do exist about infringing on civil liberties, regulations that other applications have dealt with can ensure that AI is used in a responsible manner.
Virtual Healthcare Assistants (Chatbots)
The sheer number of virus cases shows that many healthcare systems can quickly be overwhelmed. Stallion.AI, another company in Canada, has used its natural language processing technology to construct a multi-lingual virtual healthcare agent that can answer many common questions to COVID-19.
It also can offer clear guidelines and reliable information. The chatbox can also recommend protection measures, monitor virus symptoms, and advise people on whether they need self-isolation at home or hospital screenings.
Getting a virus diagnosis quickly means that responses such as quarantine can be made quickly to reduce the spread of the infection. An obstacle to quickly diagnosing the virus is the shortage of clinical expertise needed to interpret diagnoses because of the number of cases.
AI is improving diagnostic times with the virus through products developed by companies such as LinkingMed, a China-based oncology information platform and medical data analysis firm.
Pneumonia, a common problem associated with the virus, can be diagnosed by CT scan analysis in less than a minute with an accuracy of up to 92% and a rate of recall of 97% on many test data sets.
This is possible by utilizing an open-source AI model that looks at images from CT scans. It not just identified lesions but also was able to study them in terms of volume, number and proportion. The platform is powered by Paddle Paddle, an open-source deep-learning platform by Baidu.
Intelligent Drones and Robots
Thermal cameras are sometimes used for detecting who has a fever. The only problem with the technology is it usually needs a human operator. But now, cameras with AI, multisensory technology are being used in airports, nursing homes, and hospitals. The technology can detect people with fevers and can track movements, recognize faces, and determine if the people are wearing face masks.
Intelligent Drones and Robots
Drones and robots are being used more with the virus because of social distancing requirements needed to contain the spread of COVID-19. To ensure compliance, some drones can be used to watch if people are using facemasks. Others can broadcast information to large audiences and even disinfect public areas.
MicroMultiCopter, a China-based technology company, is lessening the risk of virus transmission that is involved in city-wide transport of quarantine materials and medical samples by using their drones. Patient care also is benefitting as robots are being used for medication and food delivery.
Room cleaning and sterilization of isolation units also is being done by robots.
Curative Research AI
Part of what the science community has had trouble with is the lack of a cure for COVID-19. AI can be a difference-maker, as Excientia, a British start-up, has shown. Earlier in 2020, they were the first company to come up with an AI-designed drug molecule that is now in human trials. It only took a year for the algorithm to come up with the molecular structure compared to the five-year average time that it takes regular research techniques.
AI also can help with the development of vaccines and antibodies for the coronavirus, either designing them from scratch or through repurposing current drugs. For example, Google’s AI company DeepMind used the AlphaFold system to devise structure models of proteins that are connected to the virus in an effort to help science’s understanding of the virus.
The great uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has resulted in many myths being spread on social media. No quantitative assessment has been done yet to evaluate the level of misinformation that is out there, but it is certainly a large amount.
Technology companies such as Google and Facebook are fighting to combat the many conspiracy theories, misinformation and malware, and phishing scams.
A Google search for coronavirus/COVID-19 results in an alert sign that is linked to verified information sources. Youtube links users directly to WHO and other credible sources for coronavirus information. Videos that have bad information are taken down by AI as soon as they are uploaded.
As the world continues to deal with the effects of the virus, many positives can be drawn from the bravery and expertise of healthcare professionals, as well as the additional contributions of AI technology. As AI technology companies and products partner with other industries for virus solutions, there is a brighter light at the end of this tunnel. AI is helping to create the needed in the world in these challenging times.