The corona virus outbreak now has spread to multiple countries and hit millions of lives with thousands of deaths across the world. The outbreak has caused numerous challenges and problems, with governments and organisations facing new problems. Global situation is alarming. Companies are facing losses. But, amidst the chaos, some silent guardians have been watching over us and turning the tide of war against the invisible enemy.
AI, Data Science and Technology is helping to fight the Virus outbreak. When the virus was in it’s first stages, Chinese authorities initiated their response to the virus, taking help from technology giants like Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei. Country’s healthcare initiatives were boosted and data about the outbreak was analysed and adequate measures were taken.
Cities in China, such as Shanghai have used Big Data and statistical methods to help fight the infection. Workers report information about their day to day activities like diet, temperature, places they went to, travel history; which is sent to big data platforms that authorities use to manage epidemic prevention. Taiwan, having close proximity to mainland China, could have been hit hard, but the country’s use of big data analytics and cellphone tracking assisted officials to control the spread of the virus. Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau has been monitoring personnel inflow and movement clearly, so as to prevent any kind of spread of infection. At the entrance of railway stations in China, screens display infrared images of people passing through the station’s gates. This helps authorities in identifying potential cases. The newly installed thermal scanners are just one of the ways authorities are using artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to combat the deadly virus.
A small Asian country, Taiwan as been very effective in countering the spread of Corona Virus. The small island nation lies just 130 km off the coast of mainland China and shuttles thousands of passengers to and from the mainland daily. Government authorities have been very efficient in keeping potential carriers of virus at bay. Authorities did a very detailed mapping of who got it from whom and traced back the cases. Authorities integrated Taiwan’s national health insurance database with its immigration and customs database. Citizens of Taiwan have a National health insurance (NHI) card and integrating the databases helped to track the 14-day travel histories and symptoms of its citizens. Taiwan also relied on age old methods of face to face check ins. Households were grouped and each group was assigned a chief. Each chief is to look after the conditions of the people living in their area. In such conditions, it is necessary to be helpful and nice towards people. Else many might hide their symptoms. Taiwan’s government introduced a travel ban on visitors from China, Hong Kong and Macau as soon as reports started to appear about numerous cases from the mainland. Taiwanese government officials contacted the people and tried to figure out where everyone is. They tracked the people through their phones and ensured that the people having the mandatory 14 day quarantine did not violate the rules.
Now, the question arises, why is data important in this fight?
To know about how to prevent the spread of virus, authorities need to know where the people are. Facebook has already teamed up with researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and the National Tsing Hua University, in Taiwan, sharing data about people’s movements and high-resolution population density maps, which help them forecast the spread of the virus. Social networks are also helping governments track how people are talking about the issue online.
Fighting fake news.
Misinformation about such a sensitive topic can create mass panic and unrest. Companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others invest lot of resources to help protect users on their online platforms against misinformation and fake news. There has already been a lot of misinformation on social networks, especially on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Number of tech giants have released a joint statement. Facebook removed fake corona virus rumours, Google has been flooding users about updates on corona virus on various news sites. Twitter has been demoting posts stating misinformation and crazy conspiracy theories. YouTube has been removing videos which post misinformation and urge people to not get treated.
How AI is fighting our battles.
We often hear that AI is going to revolutionise healthcare, by catching cases early, accelerating drug development, and personalising treatment. AI can be used to spot predictions in data and make predictions. In case of corona virus, AI can be used for drug discovery in mainly two ways- one, screening through millions of chemical compounds for suitable drugs in simulations, far faster than any human expert; two, identifying targets that new drugs can latch onto, either to reduce their impact (making people less sick), or to slow their spread among people. Deepmind, an AI focused company, whose algorithms are known for beating human players at CSGO, Dota 2 etc is working on solutions for drug discovery. They have developed a deep learning system that tries to extract protein structures when no similar proteins exist. The three dimensional structure of a protein is essential for developing new drugs, especially for new viruses. Covid-19, for example, has really spikey proteins that project out from its surface. Human cells don’t normally allow a virus inside. But COVID-19’s spikey proteins also harbor a Trojan Horse that “activates” it in certain cells with a complementary component. Cells having abundance of these factors are more susceptible to invasion, for example the lung cells, data also suggests that a large number of patients are suffering from respiratory ailments. The genomic blueprint of the COVID-19 virus has been released by the Chinese government in open access databases. Others, through experiments and computational modelling have posted about the structure. Alpha fold is quite new to the protein folding game, and a lot of work has to be done.
Researchers from MIT and Harvard are working with machine learning models to understand characteristics of voice recordings of Covid-19 patients as compared to healthy people. Specific vocal features could predict if a person is infected. Researchers at University of Copenhagen are working on developing AI based computer models which can calculate an individual’s need for ventilator or intensive care. AI can definitely not treat people, but use of AI will help the healthcare sector in strategic planning and better usage of resources.
The fight against Corona Virus has been fought well, the world has come together, pooling it’s resources, for the sake of the greater good. As a race, it a test for us, we are not alone and we can win this fight.