The whole world currently faces an exceptional situation because of the outbreak of COVID-19. However, this is not the first time the world faces such situation.
Estimates say that the outbreak of the Spanish flu infected 500 million people and killed 50 million. This is when the whole global population was less than 2 billion.
The world is using all available methods to avoid a similar situation with the current outbreak. Among the technologies that proved to be very important and effective is artificial intelligence AI.
This technology provided a wide variety of applications to fight the pandemic including monitoring of activity and social circles of diagnosed people and limiting the contact between people.
This is one of the well-established uses that was increasingly being used even before the start of the outbreak. Many of the services that are offered by humans can be done efficiently by robots equipped with artificial intelligence.
In 2014, Starship Technologies was the first company to use autonomous robots in delivering groceries from local vendors. The startup company was marketing its services as being more economical and environmental compared to conventional delivery.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic boosted their business as the demand for social distancing peaked. Currently, the company is working at its maximum capacity to expand their fleet of robots to meet the demand.
There are also other companies working in this field including KiwiBot. KiwiBot delivers sanitary products such as masks and sanitizing gels in the cities of Berkeley and Denver in the US.
Neolix is a similar Chinese company that delivers medical supplies and other needs to areas affected by the disease. They are also focused on supporting healthcare teams with their needs.
The outbreak of COVID-19 can also boost the use of autonomous driving taxi services offered by companies like Robotaxis and Yandex. However, the progress in this field may be limited compared to autonomous delivery services.
China was leading in the outbreak of COVID pandemic. However, they are also leading the use of artificial intelligence to fight the disease. The government has started using intelligent drones and robots to ensure that people are strictly following the social distancing and hygiene exceptional regulations.
For example, drones can detect if someone is not wearing a mask in a public area or if people are unnecessarily gathering in large numbers. Robots can also monitor the temperature and other vital signs for people in public areas without the need for human intervention.
Accordingly, suspected patients with infections can be detected more efficiently to be tested for the viral infection. Drones are also used to disinfect public places and deliver audio messages to a larger audience in streets. Additionally, robots were used in hospitals for the transfer of samples and disinfection of hospitals.
Artificial intelligence with the support of big data can play a major role in diagnostics and efficient screening for early detection of COVID-19 cases. This is a critical step in fighting the viral spread as identified patients can be isolated before infecting others.
LinkingMed, a Chinese medical data analysis company, developed an algorithm for diagnosis of pneumonia by analysis of CT scans in a process that takes less than 60 seconds.
The method achieved accuracy reaching 92%. This is a high percentage compared to other available methods or human decisions.
The analysis depends on identifying lesions in the lungs with their number, volume and proportions. The company utilized the deep learning platform Paddle Paddle offered by another Chinese company.
Early detection can also be improved by monitoring the social circles of identified cases. This would help to test people who came recently in contact with the patient and who are more expected to be identified as positive cases.
For instance, telecom data have a lot of information about locations that the person visited. These data can be used to form social circles of the infected person who can then be examined for the viral infection.
As data accumulates, places where more infected people appear are recorded. The demographic information of infected people shows which people have more priority to be examined.
A lot of privacy issues are raised in the use of such data. There should be a way to ensure that the data won't be misused after the end of the pandemic.
Big data analytics has achieved remarkable success in the control of coronavirus in South Korea. It was possible to decrease the number of cases from the peak of 909 per day on Feb 29th to only 74 new cases per day without a lockdown.
South Korea tested over 270,000 people. This accounts for 5200 people per million compared to 74 people per million in the US. Although, South Korea recipe is the most expensive experiment in the world, it is very well organized.
It targets and quarantines only people who come in contact with infected individuals. South Korea proved that scaling up the diagnosis is the solution to control the pandemic.
Artificial intelligence can also provide direct support to healthcare staff by relieving some of the burden caused by the flood of questions from the public about the virus.
This enables healthcare staff to focus on the actual management and treatment of cases where their effort is most needed.
For example, Stallion.AI, based in Canada, has developed the natural language processing abilities to provide a virtual healthcare agent. The agent can answer questions related to COVID-19 in multiple languages.
The most terrifying part about COVID-19 pandemic is the lack of confirmed cure and the uncertainty about how this will end. Aritificial intelligence can play a role to boost the efforts for finding a cure for this disease.
For example, the British startup company Exscienta introduced a drug molecule that was developed by artificial intelligence. It is currently in clinical trials.
The development process took 1 year only. This is much shorter than the average 5-year period for development of drugs through conventional methods.
Additionally, artificial intelligence with big data can provide in-depth valuable data about the virus. This can help scientists focus their efforts in the right direction.
For example, DeepMind, owned by Google, is building structure models for the viral proteins which can be used as guiding data. This can make the process of finding a vaccine or cure much more efficient.