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Fighting Covid-19: The role of artificial intelligence , machine learning and data analytics

A comforting reassurance is that technology may create human societies that are healthier, wiser and safer, for fear of collateral damage, though apprehensions about such technology displacing labour is not entirely unfounded.

By Jaykhosh Chidambaran

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

In 2020, The World Health Organization’s report on Corona Virus pandemic painted a grim picture on the rapidity of the transmission, as its reproductive number R0>2. While it took 67 days for the first 100,000 to be infected globally, the next 100,000 had contracted the virus in 11 days and the last 100,000 in just 4 days! Therefore, the flattening of the epidemiological curve was absolutely inevitable in public-health related containment measures besides the pre-emptive ones that included social distancing, self-isolation, travel bans, lock-downs, factory and office closures and institutional quarantining of the infected population in customized medical facilities around the world. 

During the current outbreak, technologically advanced countries in general and China in particular have extensively and quite effectively deployed its global competencies in Artificial Intelligence, Data Science and Technology to arrest local transmission. Several industry leaders and tech start-ups have integrated their know-how with academics, clinicians, doctors and government entities to detect, track, test, isolate and manage the contagion. Several global AI and Data Analytics companies have been working assiduously, in a race against time to process information and develop immunization vaccines to sever the tentacles of death. A few of the commendable applications of AI machine learning technology across the globe in the current COVID-19 outbreak is as follows:

  • BlueDot, the Canadian Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up, by analyzing news reports, government press releases and social media handles, were able to detect this outbreak, and warned about it several days before the official health bulletins from World Health Organization (WHO) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
  • Terra Drone, the Tokyo headquartered global leader and manufacturer in industrial drones has employed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in China’s affected areas to transport medical samples and quarantine materials without risking human contact. 
  • Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, built an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered diagnostic system that could detect viruses in 20 seconds with 96% precision. The AI enabled system identifies novel coronavirus by using computed tomography scans of the carrier’s chest. It has significantly improved capacity for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests to confirm COVID-19 in China and several other countries that has demanded for this cutting-edge technology. 
  • IBM’s Summit, the US based technology behemoth’s highly advanced and one of the most powerful supercomputers’ in the world fights against Covid-19. In just two days, Summit identified and studied 77 small molecule drug potential compounds that could be effectively used to combat the virus. A conventional wet-lab approach would have taken scientists several years to accomplish the task. Summit is currently deployed by US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). 
  • Infervision, the Beijing based medical AI enterprise, launched a coronavirus AI solution to mitigate the workload of imaging departments in hospitals and healthcare facilities, that tremendously improved CT diagnosis speed. 
  • Pudu Technology Inc., the Shenzhen based Robotics firm, deployed its robots, specializing in the catering industry to more than 40 hospitals in China for cleaning and sterilizing jobs during the Corona outbreak. 
  • Blue Ocean Robotics, the world’s first robot venture factory, from Denmark, employs their award winning UVD Robots to disinfect hospitals and pharmaceutical industries and uses ultraviolet technology to kill bacteria and viruses.    
  • Google’s DeepMind division has created high-speed computational algorithms, that drives their deep learning neural networks, which, has published predictions of three-dimensional protein structures in Coronavirus, that causes COVID-19. It’s open-sourced, descriptive and prescriptive analytics were capitalized by pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines in record time, thereby hugely mitigating conventional turnaround times without the assistance of AI. Solving protein structures are critical to the development of vaccines, especially those based on messenger RNA. DeepMind’s AlphaFold2, the highly sophisticated AI system could rapidly determine and build 3D models of several protein structures of SARS-CoV-2, a virus about which limited knowledge existed among the medical scientific community when the pandemic started ravaging the world. This pathbreaking solution represents a giant leap in computational structural biology that will drastically redefine human response to lethal pathogens in developing both preventive and curative care vaccines.
  • SIB Swiss Bioinformatics Institute, headquartered in Basel, Switzerland has developed SWISS-MODEL, a fully automated protein structure modelling server that is extensively used by researchers worldwide. These computer simulations operate without human intervention and have generated quantum information on molecular functions by simulating structural models of proteins. Machines have truly surpassed human computing capabilities on an incredible scale and each year SWISS-MODEL processes more than 1 million requests for protein sequencing and modeling without human monitoring.      
  • SenseTime, a Hong Kong Artificial Intelligence company has developed a state-of-the-art, ultra-sophisticated temperature detection and facial recognition software, which was used by the Chinese and Korean governments for surveillance of Corona virus carriers in public places through ‘Smart Helmets’. Its mask algorithm can also detect and flag people who are not wearing masks in public places that will deter them from accessing entry to any building when this technology is integrated into the building management system (BMS). SenseTime is touted as the most valuable Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-up in the world and AI’s first unicorn, that is currently valued at 7.7 billion US Dollars.  
  • Sonovia Ltd, an Israeli start-up has developed an anti-pathogen, anti-bacterial fabric, using revolutionary ultrasonic technology, patented as Sono. The company was founded by Israeli professors and scientists and its disruptive technology blasts Nano-particles into textiles with high velocities that can prevent bacterial, virus and fungi growth and hence empirically proven to contain the deadly coronavirus transmission. The Sono Mask samples were tested in the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai and a medical lab in Chengdu and proved to neutralize novel coronavirus to 99.34% accuracy. Sonovia has shipped more than a million anti-microbial masks to more than 300,000 clients since 2020. Independent world-renowned labs like MicroBan, Hohenstein, HygCen, Taryag and ATTCR have corroborated Sonovia’s innovation claims.
  • Ant Financial, the Chinese group, which is the highest valued Fintech company in the world, is offering a blockchain based platform for claims processing in the health care and insurance industry, that minimizes customer engagements across the table. 
  • The cloud computing platforms, augmented by the super-computers of Chinese tech behemoths like Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent, Baidu and DiDi have launched diverse intelligent products from online doctor consultation to automated ‘Chatbot’ for basic diagnosis.

In a future that is unpredictable and intimidating, where human decisions, probably will be dominated by external algorithms, robotics, artificial intelligence driven machine learning and deep learning neural networks. A comforting reassurance is that technology may create human societies that are healthier, wiser and safer, for fear of collateral damage, though apprehensions about such technology displacing labour is not entirely unfounded.  

Big data combined with smart data, that enables running regression models to influence the psychographic behavior of individuals, groups and societies have already kickstarted in the contemporary world, the 2016 Trump and Ted Cruz presidential campaign being a classic case. Allegedly, the British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica collected unauthorized personal data of more than 87 million Facebook users and employed those psychographic data for political advertising to leverage votes for Donald Trump. This later rocked the business and political world as Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal leading to formulation of several data privacy and data control/protection legislations across the world. 

Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics are increasingly perceived as solution providers and crisis management tools for extreme global events, called in economics parlance as ‘Black Swans’. The Covid-19 global crisis is a harbinger of this revolution, which inescapably awaits mankind. 

About the author : Jaykhosh Chidambaran is an accomplished management professional with over 20 years of diverse industry experience in MNC’s and is currently an EdTech Growth and Strategy Consultant for India & Middle East. He is an alumnus of Chicago Booth School of Business. 

Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of TAS and TAS does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.