COVID-19 & Tech: Artificial Intelligence

On Fridays I plan to spotlight an emerging technology that has been pushed by the COVID-19 pandemic into more mainstream use, sometimes in ways that may seem surreal.


Today I’d like to point out nine ways that ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) is getting deployed to assist with the current crisis.

(For more general info about AI with a focus on libraries, check out my post for Henry’s High-Tech Highlights from last year.)


1. AI TO SNIFF OUT OUTBREAKS

Illustration that shows an AI identifying the COVID-19 disease after scanning various outside information sources looking for signs.
AI scans social media, news reports, search queries, etc. for signs of disease outbreaks

Apparently, it was an AI that sniffed out COVID-19 and sounded the alarm before any humans did at the end of December.

Science Magazine (5/12/2020): “Artificial intelligence systems aim to sniff out signs of COVID-19 outbreaks

“The international alarm about the COVID-19 pandemic was sounded first not by a human, but by a computer. HealthMap, a website run by Boston Children’s Hospital, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to scan social media, news reports, internet search queries, and other information streams for signs of disease outbreaks. On 30 December 2019, the data-mining program spotted a news report of a new type of pneumonia in Wuhan, China. The one-line email bulletin noted that seven people were in critical condition and rated the urgency at three on a scale of five.”


2. AI TO SEARCH FOR A CURE

Illustration that shows an AI identifying a potential drug treatment after scanning drug industry dat and scientific research papers.
AI scans scientific research papers to identify potential drug treatments.

Wired (4/17/2020): “AI Uncovers a Potential Treatment for Covid-19 Patients

“The company has created a kind of search engine on steroids that combines drug industry data with nuggets gleaned from scientific research papers. Using the software, Richardson had identified a rheumatoid arthritis drug that might dampen some of the most severe effects of the new virus, an illness now known as Covid-19.”

Google’s DeepMind is also working on understanding the structure of the virus’s associated proteins to learn how it functions, and this could lead to the development of a vaccine or cure.


3. AI TO TRACK HOW INFECTION SPREADS

Illustration that shows an AI tracking how the infection is spreading in a region to assist in halting or containing it.
AI can track how the infection is spreading in a region to help in real-time efforts to halt or contain it.

Bruegel (3/23/2020): “Artificial intelligence in the fight against COVID-19

“…In Belgium, datasets from telecoms operators are combined with health data under the supervision of the Belgian Data Protection Authority in order to generate aggregate and anonymised regional-level datasets that can be used to assess how the virus spreads and which areas are high risk. Similar initiatives are underway in other countries. The real value of these efforts is that digital technologies can offer monitoring in real-time, enabling authorities to be more proactive.”


4. AI TO SCREEN POPULATIONS

Illustration showing an AI remotely testing a population of people for fever and potential signs of the disease.
An AI can test hundreds of people at a time for fever.

Bruegel (3/23/2020): “Artificial intelligence in the fight against COVID-19

“Screening the population to identify who is potentially ill is crucial for containing COVID-19. In China, which was hit first, traditional infrared imaging scanners and handheld thermometers were introduced in multiple public locations, especially in Beijing. Chinese AI champion firms have now introduced more advanced AI-powered temperature screening systems in places including subway and railway stations. The advantage of these systems is that they can screen people from a distance and within minutes can test hundreds of individuals for fever.”


5. AI TO IDENTIFY AND REMOVE CONTENT WITH PSEUDO-SCIENTIFIC AND DANGEROUS MISINFORMATION

Illustration of AI recognizing a dangerous hoax being perpetuated online and removing it from the view of a susceptible consumer.
Besides the virus itself, another kind of infection spread in society are the

Besides the virus itself, another form of infection spread in society are the harmful scams and life-threatening “snake oils” being pushed by the unscrupulous onto the vulnerable. Companies like YouTube and Twitter routinely remove content that violates their policies in this regard, but with staff out of their offices and social distancing, AI is being relied on to perform this task (and far less accurately than real humans). In the future, we will likely see more and more sophisticated AI taking over this job.

Broadband Breakfast (3/17/2020):

“YouTube will be relying on AI to take down content policy violations as the coronavirus spreads… Google, which owns YouTube and typically relies on humans to identify violating content, is now transitioning to less accurate automated tools as of Monday in an attempt to reduce the need for people to come into its offices. Some of the content that YouTube employees remove are videos that offer pseudo-scientific and dangerous misinformation regarding the spread and treatment of coronavirus. Twitter on Monday announced a similar policy that will use AI content moderators, but that it would not ban any users based solely on that enforcement scheme.”


6. AI TO DETECT THE DISEASE FROM YOUR VOICE

Illustration of an AI hearing a person speaking and determining the person has COVID-19.
An AI diagnosing COVID-19 after listening to a person’s voice.

In my post highlighting persistent recognition systems, I described how these listening AI systems could diagnose conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cardiac arrest – all based on voice dat. Now the same technology is being applied to COVID-19.

Business Insider (4/30/2020): “Do I sound sick to you? Researchers are building AI that would diagnose COVID-19 by listening to people talk”


7. AI TO ALERT YOU TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP

Illustration of an AI alerting someone to seek medical help.
After an AI knows you’ve contracted the virus, it can alert you to seek medical help.

Currently, we rely on people themselves to understand the signs of the disease and determine if they personally should seek help. This helpful tool could potentially save many lives.


8. AI TO GET YOU TO TREATMENT FASTER (ESPECIALLY IN RURAL AREAS)

Illustration showing an AI acting as an assistant to guide COVID-19 patients to the nearest treatment they require.
An AI streamlines the process by connecting patients to the nearest treatment in their area.

Mashable (4/21/2020):

“Clearstep’s app is meant to streamline the healthcare process by giving rural areas quicker access to COVID-19 treatment.”

With so much information need out there regarding the pandemic, there aren’t enough customer support staff out there to handle all the questions. AI can step in and take on this role to supplement providing this crucial information service.

For example, Google’s created AI virtual agents for businesses to utilize.

From Google Cloud blog (5/6/2020): “How Cloud AI is helping during COVID-19

“In early April, we launched the Rapid Response Virtual Agents program to help organizations that have been inundated with customer questions about the pandemic. The program helps businesses quickly build and implement a customized Contact Center AI virtual agent to respond to customer questions via chat or voice allowing customers to get 24/7 support.”


9. AI TO SPEED UP LOAN DISPERSALS TO PEOPLE WHO NEED THEM

Illustration showing an AI making the process to disperse loans much faster for a financial institution.
An AI makes the process to disperse loans much faster for a financial institution.

From Google Cloud blog (5/1/2020): “Business continuity planning and resilience in financial services during COVID-19 and beyond

“Leveraging artificial intelligence, we’ve created an end-to-end solution that speeds up the time-to-decision on loans and helps inform lenders’ liquidity analysis—from the initial application submission to the underwriting process and SBA validation.”

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