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Artificial Intelligence in the fight against Coronavirus
Technology - March 24, 2020
The novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the crisis of our generation and the outbreak
which started in November 2019 has crippled healthcare, economy and general
wellbeing of the entire world. Till date, the virus has spread all over the world
and people have died as a result of the complications arising due to the virus. The
socio-economic impact across the globe has been catastrophic as nations are in
lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus.
Government and concerned authorities are taking emergency actions to minimize the
damage and accelerate our return to normalcy. Artificial Intelligence has come up as
a strategic ally in our resistance against the COVID-19 and its contributions have
been crucial in diagnosing, screening and in our attempts to find a cure.
Let us see the key areas where AI is helping us fight COVID-19.
1) During the outbreak.
Wuhan, a prominent city in central China is widely regarded as the epicenter of the
Coronavirus outbreak. The first cases were reported from Wuhan around late November
2019 and within couple of months, the infections and deaths soared. During those
early days, scientists and doctors were still unsure about the nature of this
seemingly new kind of virus. In late Dec 2019, BlueDot, an AI platform reported a
surge in "unusual pneumonia" cases around the Wuhan region. This prompted the
authorities into action and after nine days, the World Health Organization (WHO)
confirmed the discovery of a "novel (or new) coronavirus"
How does BlueDot track infections?
BlueDot uses Natural language processing (NLP) and Machine learning to scan various
data sources and identify the early signs of mass infections.
BlueDot combines its analysis with the work of many human experts it employs to find
correlation between data points. These data points include mapping the movement
patterns of people in the infectious regions. This way, BlueDot can predict the
spread of virus in other territories and authorities can take preventive measures.
2) Screening people for COVID-19
Once the Coronavirus was identified and declared an epidemic, the authorities around
the world rushed to contain the spread of the virus. A common symptom of Coronavirus
is fever and a person with high temperature is more likely to have the virus as
compared to a person with normal temperature. The Chinese search engine giant, Baidu
developed an AI system where they used computer vision and infrared sensors to
detect the temperature of people in common areas. Anyone with a temperature above
37.3-degree Celsius are automatically flagged and reported to concerned authorities.
3) Testing people for COVID-19
Thermal screening cannot confirm that a patient is COVID-19 positive. We need to
detect the RNA extract of the COVID-19 in the patient and then confirm the
infection. AI improved the COVID-19 testing mechanisms by developing a system which
can detect the virus in chest CT scans. The system was developed by Alibaba, a
Chinese conglomerate. Not only the system improved the accuracy of the results but
it also reduced the test time to 20 seconds as opposed to 15 minutes earlier.
Another AI company, Infervision has developed an AI solution for frontline health
workers which assists them in identifying positive cases.
4) Finding the cure
COVID-19 is a novel(new) virus and there is no cure or vaccination against it.
Biotech firms around the globe are working to develop such a cure and AI is playing
an important part in research and analysis. For e.g. Google's DeepMind is using its
AI algorithms to determine the proteins which constitute the Coronavirus. The
details are shared with the researchers who are working on developing antivirals and
vaccine. Another company, BenevolentAI is using predictive analysis to propose
existing drugs which could be useful against Coronavirus.
In addition to the above areas, AI has been helpful in hospital claims management,
delivering drugs and supplies via drones, manufacturing face masks and spreading
awareness through tools like chatbots.
A century ago, the world was devastated by Spanish Influenza, a global pandemic which
killed almost 50 million people. Technology was absent back then and medical science
wasn't very advanced. Today we have come a long way in healthcare and technology and
together they can be put to good use in saving countless lives. AI is playing a big
part in our resistance against COVID-19 and its contribution is only going to
increase in the days to come.