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COVID-19

First responders not leveraging AI enough to control pandemic

As the global epidemic of the COVID -19 plagues the world, we are in danger of not learning from many of our past disasters and to really utilise and re-emphasize the many fields where artificial intelligence and machine learning are beginning to make an impact. Implemented in the right way, artificial intelligence can assist and inform first responders, as well as communities affected, artificial intelligence can be leveraged to save lives in these turbulent times.

Artificial intelligence can support with the enrichment of optimisation strategies, which are greatly needed as the turmoil around the world reaches epidemic proportions. Research with the use of machine learning to evaluate and optimise strategies for social distancing between communities, cities, and countries to control the spread of epidemics, detecting pattern, forecasting and prediction.

Artificial intelligence can pinpoint patterns in data and make predictions, and the hope is that these tools can identify drug prospects to test on humans within months. As coronaviruses such as COVID-19 mutate, a drug candidate will have to be effective against a broad spectrum of possible forms. Work is now underway worldwide, to use artificial intelligence in pursuit of a vaccine.

Artificial intelligence will without a doubt, speed up vaccine development, the technologies rely on large quantities of accurate training data. A new, highly infectious disease for which there is limited data poses challenges for even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence techniques.

Artificial intelligence can also be used to identify and locate commonalities within localised outbreaks of the virus, or with micro-scale adverse health events that are out of the ordinary. The insights from these events can help answer many of the unknowns about the nature of the virus.

The primary strength is the way it increases our capacity to predict, and therefore plan for, events and circumstances. Considering that one of the most important ways to save lives in disasters is to have early warning, there is a lot of good this technology can do.

The potential of artificial intelligence is not just in predicting that a disaster will happen but in forecasting where it will have the most impact, which systems are likely to fail, and what communities are in the most danger. This data can be used to improve decision-making about the issuing of building permits and insurance.

Artificial intelligence could prove invaluable to tracking and reporting the efforts as well as providing critique in the maintenance of critical equipment and systems.

Over the years where a natural disaster has occurred, people on the frontline have often turned to social media and ad-hoc volunteer groups in addition to, and sometimes instead of, relying on aid from the government or traditional charitable organisations. Local and wider communities have proven that they’re capable of coming together in the face of a disaster when aid doesn’t come quick enough. 

Nearly all social media platforms rely on machine learning algorithms for advertising, but additional artificial intelligence functionality could be of great assistance during disasters for both people and first responders keep up to date and organised. 

Deployed in the right way, existing timeline algorithms could be used to deliver and distribute information where it is most needed. Or, artificial intelligence could be used to scrape information from millions of social media posts and clue rescue workers in to the hardest hit areas and people in the most need.

With unmanned robots being used to great effect in every aspect of disaster response, it is now time to make the best use of robots and our ability to gather more data, and data collection and analysis techniques must keep up. As big data grows, we need to ensure the capability to draw conclusions on it, to increase response time. 

Autonomous machines and artificial intelligence algorithms, when combined, act as a significant force multiplier in our ability to protect people and property in the face of disaster.

Recently, a robot helped doctors treat an American man diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. The robot, which carried a stethoscope, helped the patient communicate with medical staff while limiting their own exposure to the illness. 

We see artificial intelligence is currently being leveraged in diagnosing the illness. Several hospitals in China are using artificial intelligence-based software to scan through CT images of patients’ lungs to look for signs of COVID-19, the infection caused by the novel coronavirus.

The coronavirus epidemic has inspired several drug companies to use artificial intelligence-powered drug discovery platforms to search for possible treatments. That process can involve using artificial intelligence to find entirely new molecules that might be capable of treating the pneumonia-like illness, or mining through databases of already-approved drugs, that might also work against COVID-19.

Importantly, while artificial intelligence drug discovery might speed up the process of finding candidates for new drugs and treatments, there’s no guarantee that the technology will come up with anything better than what human scientists could find on their own.


Key takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence can assist and inform first responders, as well as communities affected.
  • Artificial intelligence can support enrichment of optimisation strategies, now greatly needed.
  • Artificial intelligence will without a doubt, speed up vaccine development,
  • The potential is not just in predicting a disaster will happen but in forecasting where it will have most impact.
  • Data can be used to improve decision-making about issuing of building permits and insurance.

By Dr Jassim Haji, President, Artificial Intelligence Society, Bahrain.

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