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Emerging Technologies are being deployed across the globe to help combat the biggest ever Pandemic Coronavirus or COVID-19.
From its ‘Epicenter’ in China, the ‘Novel Coronavirus’ Pandemic has spread like a forest fire to infect more than half-a-million people and caused deaths more than fifty-thousand approx according to World Health Organization (WHO). The Pandemic has triggered an unprecedented urgent demand for digital and emerging technology solutions to fight the dreadful COVID-19. The lockdown measures imposed by the Government across the globe has slowed down economic activity, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has stated that its the worst growth rate to hit the Global Economy since 2009. COVID-19 has emerged as the metaphorical WW III and one of the biggest fights to face in the 21st-century world. Further complicating the response to this battle are the grey areas surrounding the virus itself, in terms of its spread and how to treat it.
As research details emerge, the data pool grows exponentially, beyond the capacity of human intelligence alone to handle it. Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) is adept at identifying patterns from Big data, and this analysis will elucidate how it has become one of the humanities ace cards in handling this crisis. From infrared thermometers to supercomputers, startups to surveillance drones or robots, new and emerging technologies are helping countries across the globe fight the spread of Coronavirus.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): Advancements in AI application such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), Data Analytics, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, Speech Recognition, Facial Recognition, and others like Chatbots, Assistant Robots are not only being utilized for diagnosis but also for vaccine development and contact traceability. AI has been deployed in several ways, and the following are some of the ways how AI has been applied as a measure to help find solutions for the Pandemic:
- Diagnostic AI: An impediment to a quick diagnosis is due to the shortage of clinical experts required to interpret the diagnostic results due to huge volume and a growing number of cases. AI has improved diagnostic’s through technology that developed medical data analysis and oncology data platform. Pneumonia, the common complication of COVID-19, can now be diagnosed from the analysis of a CT scan in less than sixty seconds. With accuracy as high as 92% and a recall rate of 97% on test data sets. Baidu’s opensource deep learning platform powered this platform.
- Disease Surveillance: With a contagious and life-threatening disease like Coronavirus, surveillance has become critical. Human activities.. especially migration, has become the main cause for the spread of the virus across the globe. Blue Dot, a Canada based company, has leveraged Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to recognize, track and report the spread of virus rapidly than the WHO and US CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). In the near/short and distant future, such technologies might be used to predict zoonotic infection risk to humans considering human activities or climate change. The combined analysis of clinical, personal, travel and social data including family history and lifestyles habits obtained from social media sources would enable more precise and accurate predictions of ‘Individual Riks’ profiles and healthcare results. However, the concerns around data security and privacy and potential infringement to policy regulations or civil liberties of individuals that other AI applications have faced will ensure that this technology is used responsibly.
- Fever Detector and Facial Recognition AI: Thermal cameras have been used for some time for detecting people with fever. The major drawback with this technology is the need for a human operator. Therefore, cameras with multisensory technology have been deployed in hospitals, airports, nursing homes, etc. These cameras detect individuals with temperatures by recognizing their face, tracks their movements and detect if the individual is wearing a face mask or not.
- Curative Research AI: The scientific community is troubled today because of the lack of a definitive cure for the virus. AI though, can potentially be a game changes as organizations like Exscienta, Google has demonstrated by becoming the first company to present an AI designed drug molecule that has gone for human trials. It took the algorithm a year to develop the molecular structure in comparison to the five years min period in case of the traditional research methods. Similarly, the scientists are hoping that AI could potentially lead the charge for developing the antibodies and vaccines for the novel Coronavirus, either through drug repurposing or entirely designed from scratch. Google Deep Mind is using its AlphaFold system to create structural models of proteins that have been linked with the virus in a bid to aid the world’s science comprehension of the virus. Although the results haven’t been experimentally verified; it still represents a step in the right direction. The White House announced the initiative along with a coalition that includes Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2), the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Microsoft Research, the National Library of Medicine, and Kaggle, the machine learning and data science community owned by Google – a project called the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset, aka CORD-19.
- Virtual Healthcare Assistants or Chatbots: The number of growing nuCOVID-19 cases has shown that the healthcare systems and response measures taken can be overwhelming. Canada based Stallion.AI has leveraged its NLP capabilities to develop a multi-lingual virtual healthcare agent who can answer queries related to COVID-19, recommend protection measures, provide reliable information and clear guidelines, check and monitor symptoms, and advice individuals whether they need self-isolation at their homes or hospital screening.
- Intelligent Robots and Drones: The Government has accelerated the public deployment of robots and drones due to strict social distancing measures taken to contain the spread of the infectious virus. Drones are used for tracking individuals who are not using facemasks in public, while others are used to broadcast information to the audience at large and disinfect public areas. Robots are used to deliver food and medication to patients without risking the lives of healthcare workers. A Shenzhen based Micro MultiCopter company deployed their drones to transport city-wide medical samples and quarantine materials and helped reduce the risk of virus transmission. The robots have filled in the role of room cleaning and sterilization staff of isolation wards.
- AI for Information Verification – ‘Infodemic’: The Pandemic has unavoidably caused panic and resulted in the propagation of myths on social media platforms. It was labelled as ‘Infodemic’ by the WHO. There is no quantitative assessment done to evaluate how much information is misleading people. Technology giants like Facebook and Google are battling to combat the spreading of waves of phishing misinformation, malware, and conspiracy theories. The search for COVID-19 or Coronavirus yields an alert sign coupled with links to verified sources of information. YouTube is directly linking users to the WHO and other similar credible organizations for the right and authentic information. Videos and Podcasts that misinform are scoured and taken down as soon they are uploaded.
- Blockchain for Claim-Processing: Blockchain is one of the leading emerging technologies for managing layers of data with virtual processing. Therefore, China is leveraging blockchain-based services for accelerating claim processing and reducing the need for face to face verifications during this time of Pandemic – COVID-19. One of the organizations owned by Ant Finacial has taken the initiative for technology integration in the administrative processing to reduce the time spent on paperwork and to repurpose the staff at the frontline.
- Business Continuity: A significant challenge during the outbreak of the Pandemic is actually being able to work. IT giants and several tech companies offered free online collaborative tools and platforms. While other businesses have quickly adopted the ‘Work-From-Home’ policies, enabling the use of collaborative platforms, online meeting software and tools, and LBS technology to clock in and ensure employees stay at home. At UNDP, the use of ERP Platforms and Zoom teleconferencing was allowed for people to keep working. Same for many organisations.
- Tele-medicine: There are millions of people who are battling with many medical conditions and needs, right from diabetes, arthritis, cancer to heart diseases. Due to the contagious Pandemic, the online-doctors and express deliveries of medical treatments and medicines are on high-demand, since hospitals are engaged fulltime in treating the patients affected by Coronavirus. Many institutions are offering online counselling at no charge to help people cope with fear and stress of social distancing. This technology is being used at large hospitals and private clinics to safely screen and treat patients from remote places.
- Big Data Dashboards: Transparent access to public data has facilitated the development of dashboards to track and monitor the spread of virus so that it can help the authorities re quick decision-making and rapid response. The dashboards are not only developed by an organization such as WHO or UN but also by many large and smaller organizations. Users can access these real-time updates easily on their portals or apps. Despite the fact that the intrinsic right drives the data protection laws in Europe to privacy, many countries across the globe have ‘more pragmatic’ legislation, even though there are robust compliance frameworks to prevent security and privacy breach of the data. Many data protection laws globally have provisions to allow the Government to bypass getting consent in certain circumstances – For National Security or Public Health Emergencies. In Europe, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) requires anyone seeking to process someone’s data must obtain their consent. Mass tracking of people’s movements and contacts using smartphone location data violates this. Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Commission has relaxed its terms to allow the collection, use and disclosure of the personal data without the individual’s consent only to carry out contact tracing and other Coronavirus response and preventive measures. There is no doubt that challenging times call for extraordinary measures, and getting rid of the virus, saving lives and resuming normality is of paramount interest for everyone. This has necessitated that the contentious privacy versus security debate is muted, and rightly so
To summarise, Humankind harps on, how their superior brainpower has led to some significant advancements in technology, connecting people around the world (even in space). The novel coronavirus is subjecting this claim to a rigorous test, as increasing connectivity is proving a boon to its spread. Despite the advances that human-kind has achieved in medical science, the only potent measure against the virus as of now is social distancing and social isolation. After initial setbacks, human-kind is putting a brave fight by using emerging technologies to restore sanity. These technologies are not only helping fight the current Pandemic but will in the future change the way we deal with a recurrence of such health wars. Therefore, Technological solutions that allow for contactless functioning are gaining prominence in the time of lockdowns and social distancing/isolation.
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