The world is currently experiencing one of its largest pandemics with at least 248 million Americans in at least 29 states advised to stay at home. But modern technology such as artificial intelligence has become a promising tool in the fight against COVID-19. As humans do their own part to protect each other and “flatten the curve,” AI offers a few benefits itself that may help decrease the severity of the coronavirus. Let’s examine.

Preventative technology

One of the most useful tools artificial intelligence has to offer is its ability to quickly analyze data and formulate predictions, which is especially useful in times like these, where coronavirus is spreading faster than society can make sense of it all. AI can sort through a variety of sources including news reports and hospital data, helping experts recognize small changes- which can lead to a higher prediction rate and new preventive measures.

BlueDot, a Canadian firm that uses data to evaluate public health risks is one example of how these AI capabilities can be successfully put into action. While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was one of the first to spread the word about COVID-19 on January 6, 2020 with the World Health Organization following closely behind on January 9, BlueDot was able to share their information about the outbreak to its own customers on December 31. This early discovery was made possible largely due to BlueDot’s advanced AI technology.

According to Kamran Khan, infectious disease physician and BlueDot’s founder and CEO, the company uses AI technology to create an early warning system that is able to track more than 100 infectious diseases by analyzing about 100,000 articles in 65 languages every day. This helps to clarify when it’s appropriate to notify clients about potential health threats such as COVID-19. This information is calculated using AI functions like natural language-processing and machine learning. It can even gather data predicting potential disease hotspots in different locations. BlueDot’s goal is to get information to health care workers as quickly as possible so that they can diagnose, and in this case isolate, infected and potentially contagious people early on.

Assistance in diagnosing

Another benefit that artificial intelligence offers healthcare workers is assistance in diagnosing patients with coronavirus. Although many CT scans and other tools have powerful imaging capabilities, AI can further add to the accuracy of these results. One example of this is the Beijing startup Infervision. Infervision’s main product is software that flags possible lung problems on CT scans, but the company recently created a new COVID-19 tool that has been used to review more than 32,000 cases using AI.

Infervision’s COVID-19 tool can provide a complete view of chest CT scans, including volume and density, and can even spot COVID-19, which is visually distinct from other respiratory infections, on images of the lung. In addition, the software saves a large amount of wait time for results, which is now more valuable than ever for frontline workers. Thousands of cases are being analyzed each day, but the AI algorithms used within the software are fighting against the clock and increasing analysis and diagnosis speeds while simultaneously decreasing the chances of cross-contamination at the hospital by better screening and prioritizing individuals who are most likely to be carriers of the virus.

Haibo Xu, professor and chair of radiology at Zhongnan Hospital, stated that Infervision’s COVID-19 tool can “identify typical signs or partial signs of COVID-19 pneumonia, in which case doctors can then follow up with other examinations and lab tests to confirm a diagnosis.”

While Infervision software is currently only being used in China, it is under evaluation by clinics in Europe and the US.

Sharing data

Artificial intelligence is also helping individuals receive proper data about the coronavirus, which ultimately helps spread awareness. According to BBC News, “Facebook is already working with researchers at Harvard University in Taiwan, sharing anonymized data about people’s movements and high-resolution population density maps.” Forecast tools like these are just one of the many ways that AI algorithms can help fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Google is also one of the many companies working to develop COVID-19-related tools using artificial intelligence. Similar to how Apple Watches or health apps track how many steps you take per day or what your heart rate is at a given time, Google’s life-science research branch, Verily is currently in the midst of developing a topical patch that individuals can wear. The patch activates while in use and tracks body temperature, which can then be sent to a compatible mobile application in order to predict locations that may be more susceptible in contracting viruses like COVID-19.

Preventing misinformation

While the increased use of social media and news-indulgence is inevitable during times of pandemics, it’s extremely important to listen to and read accurate information about the topic. Receiving misinformation from sources that are not reputable can put people in danger, in addition to causing undue stress and panic.

Google now has a 24-hour incident response team to stay in sync with the World Health Organization, and set up an SOS alert in the Search page which connects people with reputable news sources as they happen. This includes safety tips, authoritative information from WHO, and official PSA ads on a variety of online platforms. Google’s Trust and Safety team is also always working to steer users away from misinformation that may be circling the web, such as conspiracy theories, ads that capitalize on the virus, and content that advocates alternative cures instead of medical treatment.

The last widespread pandemic of this nature was SARS, which emerged over  17 years ago. But within those 17 years, technology has improved in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and the capabilities of artificial intelligence are proof of that. AI is certainly not the cure for viruses like COVID-19. However, its benefits may allow us to have more hope as we step closer into regulating current and future pandemics.

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Lindsey Berke