How Can We Use Artificial Intelligence in Our Fight Against COVID-19?

Source: Unsplash https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1588780141830-dc90d66f13b9?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&ixid=eyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9&auto=format&fit=crop&w=501&q=80

Artificial intelligence (AI) can help address the COVID-19 pandemics— if applied responsibly and ethically.

AI has emerged as a powerful technology for processing massive amounts of information, and as such it can be used to benefit mankind. However, it can also be used as a tool for creating fake documents, images, videos, or even identities, and for perpetuating existing human biases. In our quest for human betterment, we should not forget that AI is not a being, but merely an instrument towards achieving the common good.

The spread of COVID-19 is stretching operational systems in healthcare and beyond. We have seen shortages of everything, from masks and gloves to ventilators, and from emergency room capacity to the speed and reliability of internet connectivity. The reason is both simple and terrifying: The global economy and the national healthcare systems are geared to handle linear, incremental demand, while the virus grows at an exponential rate. The public health systems around the globe cannot keep up with this kind of explosive demand without the rapid and large-scale adoption of digital operating models.

AI assists public health authorities in tracking and monitoring COVID-19 outbreaks. AI facilitates social distancing

AI has proven to be a powerful tool which is capable of enforcing social distancing measures. With the advent of virtual assistant AI technology such as Alexa, people have been enabled to order their groceries without stepping foot inside a store. Robots have also begun to replace clinicians in hospitals, as they have found their application in helping disinfect rooms, providing telehealth services, and processing and analyzing COVID-19 test samples.

Source: Baidu blog. No-contact infrared sensor system used at Bejing’s Qinghe railway station, at http://research.baidu.com/Public/ueditor/upload/20200311/1583899693817775.png
BlueDot cloud-based GIS platform. Source: https://bluedot.global/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/explorer-flights.png
Source: Baidu blog, http://research.baidu.com/Public/ueditor/upload/20200311/1583899842116925.png

Can AI bring researchers closer to a cure?

AI is playing a part in each stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, from predicting the spread of the novel coronavirus to monitoring outbreaks and powering robots that can replace humans in hospital wards. One of the best things AI can do now is to help researchers scour through the data to find potential treatments.

CloudMind humanoid robot in Wuhan. Source: https://image.cnbcfm.com/api/v1/image/106452541-1584647567468employeevolunteerssettinguprobot.jpeg?v=1584647740&w=1400&h=950

AI raises data protection, data privacy and ethics concerns amid the COVID-19 outbreak

Photo by Lianhao Qu on Unsplash

Although AI has the potential to help us tackle the pressing issues that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised, the technology itself will not make the difference due to the fact that it is reliant on the knowledge and creativity of the humans who use it. When used wisely, not only does AI have the capabilities to go through data more quickly than humans, it also has the potential to exceed humans in the detection of patterns that may otherwise be overlooked.

Nevertheless, in order for AI systems to find those patterns, they require vast amounts of data with relevant examples in that data. Machine learning implicitly assumes that what has worked in the past will still work in the future. We need to understand that AI is merely a tool, and its use value is determined by the humans that design and use it. Hence, human action and innovation are of critical importance in leveraging AI’s power.

Where do we go from here?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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