Empty streets, people locked inside their own houses, businesses and sporting events suspended and airports looking like abandoned warehouses. This is not a script from a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie. This is the world we live in right now due to the COVID-19 outbreak and it’s safe to say, nobody has any idea how to react. Things are changing on a daily basis and the only thing that keeps us sane and grounded, is our access to technology.
Spending so many hours at home to prevent the virus from spreading, what keeps us working, connected to each other and informed about the news regarding the virus is our access to the Internet, to our mobile phones and our laptops. Tech is what keeps the world going in this crisis but can it also be what brings this crisis to an end? Let’s investigate.
AI to The Rescue
Many hospitals have enlisted the help of Swiss startup Calyps, to help with their increasing patient flow due to the virus. The algorithm provided by Calyps is plugged into hospital records and combines data with the news, weather changes, seasons and a multitude of other factors in order to predict the incoming number of patients into the hospital. This information is invaluable at a time like this, as the major challenge faced by hospitals is their inability to handle the hoards of people flooding the emergency rooms due to the flu.
With the help of Artificial Intelligence, hospitals can now have a good idea and guesstimation of the patients that will walk through their doors up to a week in advance, helping them plan for rooms, beds and medicine supplies.
Canadian AI start-up BlueDot Predicted Coronavirus But Nobody Paid Attention
This might sound eerie but the Coronavirus outbreak wasn’t much of a surprise for a group of people in Canada. On December 30, 2019, infectious disease surveillance startup BlueDot, raised a red flag concerning a ‘flu-like disease’ tracked in China. This finding came 9 days earlier before the World Health Organization released its first statement regarding the emergence of coronavirus.
How was the company able to do it? The technology behind the company is elaborate and something to marvel at. The AI algorithm gathers information from public domains such as Center for Disease Control or the World Health Organization and combines it to pools of less structured information such as commercial flights, weather forecasts, online articles regarding health and population data for people and animals alike. The algorithm is searching every 15 minutes, 24 hours per day.
Can you fathom the power we possess? We are essentially building the ability to predict, track and mitigate contagious outbreaks, creating a global early-warning system that will help us contextualize infectious disease risks. When COVID-19 is hopefully in the rearview mirror, the takeaways and learnings we can take with us are humongous. Companies like BlueDot will have to be taken more seriously and have a voice if we want to prevent similar events.
Can phones protect us from the virus?
China was the first country to make the news for the Coronavirus infection but it’s also making the news in the innovation it uses to combat it. A QR-code app designed by conglomerate Alibaba, is the new tool Chinese citizens are using to protect themselves from the virus. By answering a small questionnaire once they download the app, users are determined eligible or not eligible to enter buildings and restaurants. The app determines if the users were contracted by the virus or have been to close proximity to people that were infected.
The app’s main goal is to stop the spreading of the virus and whether it’s working or not, US is following through with the same idea. An open source project called CoEpi is essentially trying to replicate the same methodology whereas a team of professors and students at the MIT Media Lab are developing an app that would allow users to document their movements and compare them with those of registered coronavirus patients.
Tech is answering the call
What’s impressive to see is the swift and agile movement of tech, responding to the crisis and spreading almost as fast as the virus does. It’s astonishing to see how quickly tech was able to turn over tangible solutions in combating the virus.
What COVID-19 made abundantly clear is that humankind does have the tech infrastructure and tools to predict and tackle such outbreaks but needs to do a much better job at utilizing them. This is it for now but keep an eye on our blog as we will be coming back with more news and updates regarding tech and its role in the Coronavirus pandemic.