Artificial intelligence in the battle against the coronavirus: How can it help?

An outbreak of flu-like symptoms that originated from a wet market in the city of Wuhan, China has brought chaos to the world. The new coronavirus or 2019-NCoV, was first reported on December 31st, 2019, as pneumonia. The number of infected people increased exponentially and the virus started to spread like wildfire. Authorities identified the virus a week later on January 6th. This was followed by multiple deaths in China and carriers were identified in several other countries too.

Today there are nearly 1,360 fatalities, nearly all in China. And the total confirmed cases worldwide has surpassed 60,000. As the number of infected as well as the death toll increased, the WHO declared a global emergency.

A call for more transparency

Historically, the Chinese officials have been accused of being tight-lipped and delaying the release of details and information of the cases. The WHO and CDC depend on the data given by the Chinese for mapping the future course of action – in terms of allocating healthcare resources, dispatching medical personnel and travel restrictions. So it’s important to know the severity of the disease as it spreads.

Today, in the modern age, with a plethora of data available, there has been an unprecedented increase in transparency and openness. Large tech firms like Alibaba and Baidu have helped researchers find a solution by offering their cloud platforms for free, which is used as testing platforms.

AI in the fight against coronavirus

There are a few tech firms that are helping combat the pandemic. Some of them are:

The Canadian digital health company that uses natural language processing and machine learning, predicted that the virus would jump from Wuhan to Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo. The algorithm, which has access to dozens of flight records, goes through news reports in about 65 languages, animal disease outbreaks and social media posts. It will use the data in predictive models to find a pattern.

If you are unsure if you were amidst an infected individual while travelling, this Chinese internet company will help you find out. By entering your flight or train number as well as the travel date, you can find out if you had been in the company of patients affected by the coronavirus.

A high-tech start-up from China is offering its chatbot service free for medical institutions, governments, and charities. This automated caller system is used to call potentially infected patients,help track them down and test them for the virus. It will provide solutions based on their responses, like suggest quarantine if they have been exposed to the virus but have not developed any symptoms as yet .

The majority of the issue surrounding coronavirus is that it’s difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are so close to the common flu or pneumonia. The American surveillance company is working

with a Boston startup called Buoy Health, an algorithm that helps tell. if a person has really been infected by the coronavirus, or if it’s just the seasonal flu.

Another epidemic-monitoring company that tracked the virus-affected countries, a week before it was made public knowledge by government officials. It can also estimate the extent of people infected by the disease’s outbreak, and its consequences causing social and political disruption.

Being prepared

Artificial intelligence is not going to cure coronavirus or help contain it. But it is useful  in tracking and monitoring this pandemic, and in responding to it as well.

These surveillance algorithms have been around for a long time, but for the first time in a global health related outbreak, they are proving to be useful, thanks to the recent developments in machine learning and the availability of data.

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