How can AI help contain the new coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus has spread ruthlessly and relentlessly from Asia, to Europe, to the USA and beyond. Across the globe, the number of new infections continues to rise. To contain the pathogen, governments and health organizations are looking for any form of help. Many enterprises are offering their support – and one technology with great potential is artificial intelligence.

Prevention, monitoring and a rapid response are vital to containing infectious diseases such as COVID-19. That includes quickly collecting data and introducing corresponding measures. To this end, researchers are increasingly relying on a technology well-known to the (intra)logistics industry: artificial intelligence (AI). And in times of coronavirus, too, AI can be harnessed for highly promising solutions – for instance, in the shape of machine learning, computer vision and robots.

Tracking down the virus

Allocating resources better, reacting faster – these are especially vital to curbing infection rates and limiting disease outbreaks. And this is where machine learning can make a difference. Special algorithms mine diverse sources for information – from official health data, news and weather reports, to data on previous pandemics. The key term here is big data. And the result is reliable forecasts comparable to an early warning system. In addition, AI can be used to analyze patterns of movement and travel. This can identify the locations infected people are most likely to visit, allowing the pandemic to be tracked.

Symptom check 2.0

These forecasts are important – but so is quickly and accurately assessing the current situation. With this in mind, new methods are being implemented e.g. in the Far East. A leading Chinese tech firm, for example, has developed an artificial intelligence solution for identifying the potentially infected. In addition to computer-vision algorithms, it leverages cameras and infrared sensors to scan the temperature of up to 200 people in under a minute, flagging all individuals whose body temperature is higher than 37.3 degrees Celsius. Another encouraging solution is an AI system developed by tech giant Alibaba. With 96 percent accuracy, it detects signs of coronavirus in chest CT scans. The AI was specially trained with over 5,000 scans of coronavirus cases, learning to differentiate between the virus and other forms of pneumonia.

Robots to the rescue

To successfully flatten the coronavirus curve, human interaction needs to be temporarily minimized. Robots are therefore an increasingly common way to maintain social distancing by fulfilling deliveries of groceries and medications. The demand for these technologies is greater than ever before, driving researchers and developers to find innovative answers in record time. For example, Siemens has rapidly developed a smart disinfection robot that will soon be making its rounds in hospitals.

It is a fact that the current changes in the world are enormous. “Business as usual” hardly seems possible anymore. Instead, it is a matter of finding new ways and using the crisis as an opportunity for strategic change. Artificial intelligence is an elementary part of this.

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