Artificial Intelligence versus Coronavirus

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

Artificial Intelligence versus Coronavirus

Recently came across the tweet below.

Which has somewhat funny, obvious and simple tone.

If it so simple, why we, as humanity, haven’t done it already? Virus was discovered in second part of December 2019. Now we are in mid-March 2020, almost 3 month later, people are dying in hundreds per day (and this number is growing) and there is no real solution in sight. Only “somebody did something and it worked” type of announcements but no “we cured one patient” or “vaccine worked, patient didn’t picked up the virus” type of announcements.

Let’s take a real exercise. There is a virologist, there are some blood samples, different sequencing data, supporting protein databases and various supporting data. And there are AirFlow, “a few S3 buckets”, TensorFlow and a PostgreSQL DB on the internet. How much time would it take to set it up to make this person efficient? What do you think? 15 mins?

The reality I see in Life Sciences companies is that it would take from days to weeks and sometimes even month to just get going. The interesting stuff is that there is no correlation of the time needed and company size, e.g. some small companies could be super slow, and some big companies can be blazing fast. I’m pretty sure that some of the companies in drug research industry still didn’t got hold of Coronavirus data, thus even not in a “research” mode yet.

Do you know that many still use Excel in drug research & discovery?

Why we have failed to empower our the most brightest and smartest people?

Why I see advertisement of some event, simply because I was in proximity of 100 meters from related event, but governments lock down entire countries? Obviously, governments do the right thing and try to contain the spread, but how we ended up with having marketing technology much more powerful than the life sciences and social management and simulation technologies?

Humanity is in pandemic mode now, we are at war with the virus. Last pandemic hundred years ago took tens of millions of people. Now, we are much more knowledgeable about ourselves and capability to deal with viruses is much better, but so is the connectivity. Hundred years ago it was not possible to cross the Earth in 24 hrs, now it is possible. Now, single asymptomatic virus carrier can wreak havoc on entire nations, even without knowing that.

It was predicted by many that new viruses will put our civilization on stress test. Now, it is not a prediction but everyday reality. When the lock-downs will end? When we can go together to the cinema and eat popcorn from the same bucket?

3 month in, many people dead, much more Math 101 awareness (bell curves, exponential vs parabolic vs linear, r-factor, doubling time, etc…) and no answer to that.

I think our only real answer to that is Artificial Intelligence, humanity new best friend. It is our only asymmetric leverage against Coronavirus. Unless we want to go “herd immunity” path, hundreds of millions death later.

So, how Artificial Intelligence can help?

First of all, drug research and discovery. AI is not new in this field but it was in “business as usual” mode. It worked, to some degree, but external existential pressure will put many companies into position to leave “bicycles” behind and take some “cars” or even “sport cars” for their AI driven drug research and discovery. Foundation is already available and I saw many successful cases in companies modernizing their way of doing this. People at this war frontlines should not be concerned how to “make bullets” or “make rifles” — they should shoot with high precision with unlimited bullets. This a bit funny tweet at the beginning is an indicator of sad reality. Instead of fighting diseases by applying biology, chemistry, bioinformatics and other knowledge, they are struggling with technology. We should fix that.

Second, our communities. I’m pretty sure that many didn’t liked Chinese computer vision based Smart Cities. Now, they will have a chance to think about pros and cons from their homes, in a lock-down. Question of ethics is till there, but there should be a choice. Humanity should be able to live in different modes. So far we had wars and terrorism, which shaped how our communities function. Now we have an invisible enemy, who is still lethal. We should have means to contain and manage situations like this with the right level of precision and full control. Country lock downs happened because there were no such systems in place. And as we see, security and intelligence systems were not capable of helping and even most powerful modern day nations had to “lock the doors”. Power vs control vs responsibility debate is still very important, but at least we need to have options. Scale of the problem makes decision making incomprehensible by human beings. Behaviors, clusters and interactions are so diverse that without AI we will have to shut down entire countries until we do the cleanup. Same as with computer vision — how quickly we can deploy city scale IIoT thermal sensors empowered by machine learning so we can relax a bit cities lock-down?

And, the most important is — about us. The main enemy here is not a virus, but fear. The only weapon against fear is knowledge. Almost everybody has access to Internet now but still many stores are run out of toilet paper. People in the know were warning starting January about impending problem, that when dealing with potential pandemic it is better to overreact than to deal with consequences of not enough reaction, but instead they were humiliated by the mobs. Many now can explain what “lowering the bell curve” means and why it is important. Coronavirus showed to the world that “adults” is not the same as “educated”. It is basically a biological age indicator, not a uniform representation of intelligence level. Our social constructs do not change easily and acknowledging in “adult” age that there is a lack of even basic information or understanding is still a question of life and death for many (as “handshake” or “I am not ill” behavior shows, with terminal results). Artificial Intelligence is a perfect solution to this. It is “Google that we need, but do not have, yet” — a perfect mentor and a teacher, who can support us during our life and who can share with us the most important and relevant knowledge, even as we get older, in the most accessible and highly personalized way, for optimal digestion and consideration. Chaos in social networks is a clear indicator that most, if not all of us, would benefit from such a personalized mentor and a guide, who is safe to ask and knows us better.

Until till then, let’s continue walking through the 2020 and do what we can to soften or even resolve the challenges which are coming our way.