Artificial Intelligence: How is it being used to combat Covid-19?

The contributions of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the modern technology-driven world are ever so permeating. Deep Learning, Automation,…

The contributions of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the modern technology-driven world are ever so permeating. Deep Learning, Automation, Analytics, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and the list goes on. These branches are making AI the smartest it has ever been. It is the most popular, the most improved and the most renowned technology of our age. As machines and humans collaborate meticulously, the innovations that emerge have the power to create a myriad of opportunities for consumers, businesses and society. In a 2017 survey conducted by PwC, more than 60% of 2,500 consumers and business’ decision-makers in the US believe that AI is an extremely powerful tool that can be used to battle important issues facing modern society, ranging from clean energy to diseases such as cancer.  

The most critical issue that the world is currently facing is the COVID-19 pandemic. This pandemic is the first global public health crisis of the 21st century. The technological world has deployed every shred of resource and technological innovation available to aid the world in its battle against the deadly virus. Amidst this chaos, one particular technology has been used to help better understand and address this crisis–Artificial Intelligence. Accenture describes Artificial Intelligence (AI) as “a constellation of technologies that allows machines to sense, comprehend, act and learn in order to extend human capabilities”, enabling humans and machines to complement each other’s strengths. This explanation very precisely illustrates why AI has been deployed by organisations to apply their expertise in several areas and sectors impacted by COVID-19. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning models have been deployed expansively to envisage, explain and endure the pandemic. However, it is important to note, as said by Nuria Oliver, a data scientist from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), that “no decisions, at any step, are fully and exclusively delegated on the algorithm”. AI is simply being used to support and help make those decisions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to innovate at a fast pace, and while there are innumerable ways in which AI is helping us wage war against the virus, there are a few examples that help draw a rough picture.

DeepMind: Predicting the Structure of the Virus

The Google-owned AI firm DeepMind has been working to produce structural predictions of understudied proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. DeepMind uses the latest version of its AlphaFold system – a deep learning system which builds on decades of prior research using large genomic datasets to predict protein structure. It produces highly accurate 3D models of protein structures. The system uses neural networks to predict physical properties of the protein. This effort to predict the structure of the COVID-19 virus will help researchers gain a better understanding of its implications.

BenevolentAI: Discovering Approved Drugs that can be Used for COVID-19

The UK AI company is the global leader in the development and application of AI for drug discovery and development. It uses AI to mine and analyse biomedical information to produce unbiased hypotheses. This company initially identified Baricitinib, a rheumatoid drug, as potential treatment for COVID-19 using its machine learning system. At the beginning of the outbreak, BenevolentAI launched an investigation to identify approved drugs that could be used to slow down the coronavirus. The company used its drug discovery platform “knowledge graph” – a database of all existing and approved drugs to find one that could be used to treat the novel coronavirus. Four new studies have shown that Baricitinib could be used to treat COVID-19 and could be a huge boost to the battle against coronavirus.

BlueDot: Detecting Disease Outbreaks and Issuing Warnings

The Canadian start-up uses Artificial Intelligence to detect disease outbreaks and acts as a global early warning system for infectious diseases. It was among the first in the world to identify potential risk from the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei. BlueDot used its proprietary models to publish the first paper on COVID-19, accurately predicting its global spread. The company uses machine learning algorithms to detect outbreaks, to anticipate the dispersion and the impact of the disease by scanning 100,000 official and mass media sources in 65 languages per day. The data is collected using anonymous aggregated data on billions of flight itineraries and hundreds of millions of mobile devices, and by using diverse datasets. BlueDot provides insights regarding disease outbreaks and helps predict and manage risks.

UVD Robots: Reducing the Spread of Infectious Diseases

UVD Robots help to prevent and reduce the spread of infectious diseases, viruses, bacteria and other types of harmful organic microorganisms in the environment. The robot is said to be safe, reliable and accurate, and is being used in hospitals in China to limit the spread of coronavirus. The robots use advanced algorithms and special sensors to ensure that all surfaces are subject to the right amount of UV-C light; a short-wavelength ultraviolet light that has germicidal properties and is used to inactivate or kill microorganisms. They all have a room directory which comprises high-quality inspection photos and easy hotspot identification.The robots collect enough data to produce detailed statistics and a cleaning efficiency analysis. UVD robots are extremely user friendly and are proving to be very useful in hospitals fighting COVID-19.

ClosedLoop: Identifying those at Higher Risk

ClosedLoop is a company with an AI-enabled data science platform and a catalogue of predictive models that helps healthcare organisations improve their clinical and financial outcomes. ClosedLoop is helping identify those who are at the highest risk of suffering from acute complications caused by COVID-19. The company has developed an open source, AI-based predictive model that identifies people who are increasingly susceptible to complications caused by coronavirus, called the C-19 Index. The index is being used by healthcare systems, care organisations and other local public health agencies to prepare for the long-lasting impact of COVID-19 among their communities.

Clevy: Chatbots Providing Accurate Information

Clevy, a French start-up believes that “Conversational Technologies are a game changer” as it helps make business information more accessible and aims to automate support and processes. The company launched a chatbot to make it easier for the public to access official government communication regarding COVID-19. This chatbot works on real-time information provided by the French government and the World Health Organisation. The chatbot can answer a range of questions right from symptoms of the virus to exercise to government policies. To date, three million messages have been sent without putting an added strain on healthcare and government resources. This chatbot is enabling the distribution of vital, accurate information as required by the public.

World Health Organisation: Simple Chatbot Providing Information

As part of the WHO Technology for COVID-19 Initiative, the WHO developed and launched a chatbox in collaboration with Sprinklr, to provide information about the novel coronavirus. This chatbot utilises a simple and different approach. It does not use natural language but prompts its users to send numbers and emojis to receive information on various topics. This chatbot operates on the Facebook Messenger version of the WHO Health Alert Platform developed using machine learning technology. The goal of the chatbot is to ensure that misinformation and fake news are not passed on, as this could be detrimental to public health. This service has already reached more than twelve million people via WhatsApp and, according to WHO, the total messaging through Facebook’s family of apps has increased by more than 50% in areas worst hit by the virus.

Curial AI Test: Screening Patients for COVID-19 Within an Hour

The wing of infectious disease and clinical machine learning experts at the University of Oxford have developed an Artificial Intelligence test which can screen patients for COVID-19 within an hour. This new study, running since March, gives an almost real-time prediction of a patient’s coronavirus status. The test has been devised by developing machine learning algorithms that use data from confirmed cases and pre-pandemic controls to detect a subtle difference. The CURIAL AI test is confident when giving quick negative results and correctly predicted the patients’ status more than 90% of the times when tested in the last week of April and the first week of May. The results are quite positive and make researchers hopeful as they rapidly trial CURIAL AI as a clinically useful tool that can be used by the NHS.

The current global health crisis has forced the world to respond in dynamic and versatile ways. The rapid spread of the pandemic has caught most governments, companies and citizens off-guard resulting in not only a health crisis but also an economic crisis. That has opened a much-required gateway for advanced analytics and AI-based technologies to augment decision-making in a variety of sectors. AI is a technology with endless potential and is being used to combat COVID-19 with an unfathomable multitude.  It will only be possible to determine its exact contribution years down the line.


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