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AI and the Coronavirus

How is AI Being Used to Address the Spread?

One could wonder how new technology is being used to address the current spread of the COVID19 Virus (also knowns as the Corona Virus).

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.” WHO

The virus spreads quickly. People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales.

Although it is a serious virus we have to consider:

  • Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment.
  • Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.
  • Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention.

Apparently there are now about 94,000 documented cases.

How is Artificial Intelligence Being Used to Address the Coronavirus?

I thought to summarise a few different articles on the topic.

Perhaps the most interesting case that I have found so far is the case of Taiwan. Using large datasets and a central command to implement more than 124 action items in a coordinated manner. Using big data analytics in this manner combined with a great degree of preparation although Taiwan is only 81 miles off the coast of China it has only seen 42 cases and one death.

Another one of these articles is written by Aljazeera and talks about how artificial intelligence combined with thermal imaging in China’s surveillance system is being used to identify possible trends in heat.

In fact it seems an AI application sent an alert that was ignored. According to the article:

  • At 11:12PM local time on December 30, it sent an alert about unidentified pneumonia cases in Wuhan — but only ranked its seriousness as a three out of five. It was days before human researchers at HealthMap recognized the dangers of the outbreak.
  • Half an hour after the HealthMap system had sent its alert, the human volunteer-led Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMed) produced a more detailed warning. Marjorie Pollack, ProMed’s deputy, had first noticed the signs four hours before the HealthMap alert.

Some have suggested an AI chatbot to check symptoms. With makers of ‘symptom checker’ chatbots struggle to update algorithms to respond to epidemic.

One of the largest technology companies in China claim they can detect coronavirus in seconds with 96% accuracy. It is already being deployed in over 100 healthcare facilities.

“The system was trained on images and data from 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and has already been tested in hospitals throughout China. According to the Review’s report, at least 100 healthcare facilities are currently employing Alibaba’s AI.”

Rival healthcare organization Ping An recently announced a very similar-sounding system. The company’s co-president and chief strategy officer of its Smart City division, Geoff Kau, released a statement:

There is talk of using AI to help develop a vaccine.

“Insilico Medicine, a Hong Kong-based start-up, has partially opened up its database of drug compounds to global pharmaceutical companies, hoping to find a cure quickly for the deadly Covid-19 disease. The five-year-old artificial intelligence software developer last week published on its website the molecular structure of several hundred chemical compounds, which are designed to work on a key “target” of the coronavirus. It is now seeking feedback from medicinal chemists, and aims to synthesise and test up to 100 of them with partners.”

Another more humorous article in Futurism says that Betteridge’s Law of Headlines states that any headline asked in the form of a question can be answered “no,” and thus, is a bullshit proposition. The author asks “WILL AI SAVE US FROM CORONAVIRUS?” Further the short article argues:

“AI won’t save you. A prepared, well-funded, readily available (and free) health care effort might. Until then, stick to anti-bacterial hand wash, and pin your hopes on governments taking quick action and resisting the urge to touch your own face.”

It is hard to disagree particularly with testing being so expensive in the United States, and testing failing in the first place. Elsewhere testing might not be so readily available and it will be hard to get an overview of the current impact.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 274. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days. My current focus for 100 days 200–300 is national and international strategies for artificial intelligence.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau