The novel coronavirus is affecting everyone globally and has become a new adversary. It feels as if a more powerful force is needed to break free from its adverse effects. Thankfully, there is a potential solution that may defeat COVID-19 for good.
It’s tempting to believe artificial intelligence can solve the world’s problems. Drones, robots, self-driving cars, and food production machines can provide everyone with unparalleled convenience. Artificial intelligence (AI) can truly revolutionize these areas. However, not enough people are discussing how AI can transform our fight against COVID-19.
The Fight Against COVID-19
The battle against the virus is not a one-way street. It has several stages — from data collection and processing, prediction, treatment production, and robot integration, among many others. Artificial intelligence is assisting in all these areas.
In late December, the Canadian surveillance startup BlueDot accurately predicted the risk and spread of the current pandemic. Its AI software exposed the unusual cluster of events in Wuhan and forecasted where it would spread next. Can you imagine the thousands of lives that would have been saved if mitigation was introduced immediately?
Perhaps one of the biggest benefits that AI can provide is its inspection of data for social impact. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to comb through huge amounts of data in a short period to make sense of connections that would have gone undetected otherwise.
China’s response to COVID-19 largely depended on AI and data examination. It launched Infervision, which enabled artificial intelligence to be at the forefront of its measures to combat the virus.
Imaging is the leading method to detect lung abnormalities. In images of COVID-19 patients, radiological evidence detected ground-glass opacities and lesions. Despite this, it takes a long time to collect a specimen, and suspected patients have to be tested to confirm infection.
Due to the increasing workload of physicians and radiologists, human accuracy and efficiency are largely challenged. This gap in diagnosis is filled by AI, since deep-learning algorithms perform well in finding small visual details that risk going unnoticed. This is the type of situation in which the strengths of AI can be applied to liberate thousands of medical personnel to focus on those cases that need human intervention.
Beijing-based oncology platform LinkingMed has also developed diagnostic technology through AI. Pneumonia, a complication many COVID-19 patients deal with, can be diagnosed in less than a minute with an estimated 92 percent accuracy rate. This is made possible by an open-sourced AI model that examines CT images. While medical professionals still guide the patient through the process, they can remain contact-free.
Data for Good
The data application of AI can play a significant role in information verification. Through this, companies, including hospitals, can meet the demand and supply through data examination. Think of it as a bank that needs to verify its customers for compliance. Artificial intelligence can take over this costly and long process and determine who needs medical attention the most.
Although non-critical patients can still be treated, medical institutions can focus more on vulnerable patients. Babylon Health is also at the forefront of AI-based health initiatives that translate algorithms into medically endorsed diagnostics. Providence St. Joseph Health systems in Seattle has also collaborated with Microsoft for an online chatbot screening and triage tool that has made it possible for them to serve over 40,000 patients in the first week alone.
These initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg for the potential of AI. COVID-Net is working on COVIDx, a public database with over 16,000 chest x-rays across patient cases from lung infections, including 13,000 from COVID-19. The rich data allows the model to single out the signs that define each lung illness and detect it in future x-ray models. The sample size may not be currently large enough, but it’s very promising in differentiating other lung infections from COVID-19.
Millions of people are troubled by the absence of a vaccine. However, AI can be a game changer in this field as well. British startup Exscientia is just one of the companies that are actively looking for a cure. It’s become the first company to design a drug molecule that’s proceeded to human trials.
Their secret? Artificial intelligence. Traditional research methods require at least five years to develop molecular structure, but with the help of AI, the development of vaccines and antibodies from scratch or drug repurposing has drastically been sped up.
In times of a pandemic, collaboration is key. Now, companies are making their algorithms and data publicly available. This is set to improve the support and efficiency of testing, research, and prediction.
Tech-philanthropists are also ramping up their responses to support hospitals and governments. For instance, The Rockefeller Foundation and Mastercard have announced its new platform data.org, which provides partnerships to develop data for social impact. The goal of this initiative is to improve the capacity of non-profit organizations when it comes to data access, training resources, and open-sourced tools to harness analytics and insight.
This evidence-based approach to the pandemic is rooted in the belief that data science can improve the lives of people. As data science takes the lead, it makes way for increased accuracy and speed of analyzing social challenges. This way, solutions, innovative investments, and helpful partnerships can be forged to provide impact.
Will AI Be Our Saving Grace?
Millions of people are grappling with COVID-19. Fortunately, there are a lot of positives that can be drawn from the collaboration of brave medical professionals and AI technology efforts. Despite this, the reliability of AI still lies in the people who use it.
There’s no denying AI can exceed humans in speed and pattern detection, but it also has its limitations. At the end of the day, it’s the human collaboration that will leverage AI to become a powerful tool that can be used to end the COVID-19 pandemic.