How AI is being used in the fight against coronavirus

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

How AI is being used in the fight against coronavirus

The world is at war with coronavirus. All tools, means and available knowledge are being called upon to tackle the outbreak. The transmission of information is critical in keeping tabs on a pandemic. The coronavirus outbreak is unique in this sense; it is the first pandemic to occur with AI technologies so developed and advanced as they are now.

The debate around AI and whether it is a threat to humanity or a priceless opportunity to elevate our quality of life may take on a new dimension as countries are left with no choice but to throw everything at their disposal at the virus.

More than 120,000 people around the world have been infected by the outbreak, with casualties numbering over 4,300. In China and the United States, the use of AI is the only way to effectively and quickly process enormous amounts of data to reach two goals, namely tracking the spread of the virus and assisting hospitals in treating patients.

In 2018, the Chinese government began investing heavily in AI research, in hopes of becoming “the world’s primary AI innovation centre”. China’s early investments, especially in AI’s potential healthcare related applications, made it easier to diagnose sick patients.

Chinese AI start-up, Yitu Technology, for example, offered AI-based services to analyse scans used by hospitals, health centres and clinics to diagnose patients suspected of carrying Covid-19. These developments came alongside the introduction of online medical consultations, also assisted by AI technologies, facilitating closer coordination with Chinese public health authorities.

Thermal scanners used at train stations and airports to identify people with high body temperatures also proved helpful in detecting and tracking virus carriers. Yitu Technology is also working on combining thermal scanning with facial identification and dual-sensing.

China is also using AI as a surveillance tool. Analysing text messages to decipher individuals’ travel histories and then sharing them on social media allowed Chinese people to know if they have been in contact with a coronavirus carrier.

The highly detailed information that was released was also exploited to create a mandatary mobile application named “close contact detector” which produced a QR code for each individual, allowing them to ensure that they have not been in contact with a coronavirus carrier. Other predictive AI models have been developed to help predict future disease outbreaks.

In the United States, researchers are trying to find solutions to help tackle the contagion. In Boston, for instance, the use of machine learning by Boston Children’s Hospital was invaluable in combing for signs of the virus outside China through social media and data from official public health channels.

John Hopkins University set up a Coronavirus Resource Center which developed a geographic information system through data mining and AI that made it easier for people to track the outbreak both locally and globally, no matter where they were.

For all these reasons, the creative use of AI and other technologies has become an indispensable part of efforts to tackle the pandemic and is already having a significant effect. The world is, however, still experimenting with how it can effectively be managed and implemented in the context of a broader public health strategy.