Co-founder and CTO of Tekrevol LLC
ICYMI: The spread of the new strain of Corona virus known as Covid-19 has caused massive disruption to daily life- be it social or economic.
The outbreak of the Corona virus in Italy dealt a massive blow to the Financial Times’ Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100, which wiped out $62 Billion, while the shares on Wall street also went down (so far).
The spread of the virus is also a cause of concern for tech companies around the globe with Apple warning investors that the supply of their top-of-the-line product iPhones,will be impacted as a result of Corona’s outbreak. This is because Apple’s production relies on its Shenzhen based Chinese factories, while China is also a significant consumer base for the company’s products.
But what this pandemic brings to light is a variety of AI-powered technology that can be used to mitigate further spread of the virus.
Though we don’t know precisely when a vaccine will be ready for mass distribution after clinical trials, one can expect it to be at least 12 months – especially if you consider the fact that it took 20 months for a vaccine to be deemed ready for testing on people during the SARS outbreak.
So the question here is, given that a treatment is still a considerable time away, how can modern technology help reduce casualties? Let’s dive into what many would consider a test for advanced technology, be it Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, or surveillance technology and their use in helping minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 and help with virus containment.
Modern technology is being tested by this disease in a myriad of ways, and the use cases are numerous. From thermometer guns used by health workers to check people’s temperature (one possible symptom of someone who was exposed to Covid-19) to AI-powered technology being used to identify other symptoms, discover new potential treatments, and track the disease’s spread.
On the other hand, robots are being used for interaction with potential victims of the Corona virus at hospitals to ensure that there’s no virus transmission during the diagnosis or treatment process.
Amongst the many use cases, these are the ones that stand-out:
With this basic understanding of technology, let’s take a more in-detail look at how these technologies work in the real world.
Artificial Intelligence is proving to be a fundamental tool that health experts and researchers are using to fight the potential ramifications arising as a result of the spread of the virus.
AI is currently being used to diagnose the illnesses of patients, where Infer vision's AI-based software is being used to scant CT images of patients to identify and detect possible signs of COVID-19, the infection that is caused by the novel Corona virus.
Moreover, AI is also helping power the efforts towards drug discovery and analysis. AI-powered drug discovery platforms can be used and are being used to search for potential treatments.
This is crucial because an AI-powered system can analyze and discover new molecules that might help fight the spread of the virus or search through a massive database of approved drugs that might work, based on its compound and history of fighting other similar viruses such as pneumonia
If this part of the process was handled manually, it would take too long for health workers and researchers to conduct studies efficiently. Whereas, an AI-backed software provides these experts with the processing and analytical abilities that might help speed up the process.
Even in the absence of a successful resolution, in the worst-case scenario, this technology will exhaust potential resolutions way before humans could. So even if these systems don’t give experts a definite solution, it is an incredibly vital tool to eliminate non-solutions from the equation much quickly.
The Corona virus is highly contagious, and what makes it so is that 80% of the cases are mild. I know this is a good thing, but understanding that this means that 80% of people who get in contact with the virus might never get diagnosed, and these people can thus inadvertently spread the disease to others, of whom some people may face severe conditions.
This ease of spreading is one of the biggest reasons that robots are being used to reduce as much human to human interaction as possible.
The use of robots is good, and it seems to be working. One case of diagnosing Corona virus used a robot as a method of communication between the medical staff and the patient.
This American man was diagnosed with Corona virus, as the robot functioned as an intermediary between the doctors and the patient.
Not just that, in China, hospitals are using robots from a Danish company. These UVD robots are used to disinfect rooms by using ultraviolet light that it emits on an area, killing any bacteria or viruses.
A health expert is given the control of the robot device, who operates it to ensure that the room where the patient is isolated is thoroughly disinfected.
Moreover, autonomous vehicles are being used to ensure that the supply of medical equipment to health workers is undisturbed. In normal circumstances, you would see a driver operating a car, delivering the supplies. But to reduce human interaction, self-driving vehicles are being leveraged by Chinese e-commerce companies for short distance travel to and from hospitals for package deliveries.
Lastly, in the capacity of robots, drones are being used and can be scaled for use to monitor public spaces and spray disinfectants to help improve the living conditions in public areas.
Public areas are most conducive to the spread of viruses; thus, the use of drones for these activities can help improve the fight against Corona virus's spread.
These drones can also be used to monitor the behavior of citizens within quarantined zones to ensure they are following the safety precautions mandated by health experts, to ensure minimum risk of spreading the
For those who are unaware of what Tethics are, they are essentially ethics involved with the use of technology, especially technologies that are considered potentially invasive, such as facial recognition.
With the advent of Covid-19, there is a strong case for the use of surveillance technology to avoid a potential pandemic. While surveillance technology and facial recognition are strongly marked as invasive and detrimental to the liberty of individuals within a society, the call for its widespread use in a Corona virus hit world has significant weight age.
There are two main arguments in favor of the use of facial recognition technology.
Think of it in the use-case, and it makes more sense. The combination of thermal imaging and facial recognition could be an excellent asset for governments and health experts to identify potential human carriers.
Thermal imaging can be used to detect raised temperatures while facial recognition can help pin-point the identity of a suspected carrier. This is not just applicable to public areas but also borders and airports – to ensure that people who might have symptoms are screened and checked before allowed to seamlessly integrate within communities. This precaution is vital because travelers are highly likely to be carrying the infection, even if their own symptoms are mild- meaning they are part of the 80% of the cases.
The race towards this technology is on its peak with SenseTime,
claiming that their technology can identify people who are not wearing masks, followed by other companies such as Baidu and Remark
In the US, Panasonic’s facial recognition tool Face Pro is claimed to be able to identify people wearing masks for the verification of identity. This race poses one fundamental question on Tethics; while these technologies can help make it easier to detect, monitor, and limit the spread of the virus, how will this affect the race towards surveillance technology, it’s development, and use that overreaches on privacy?
On the second argument, the development of surveillance technology can be a great asset in buildings, work spaces, and other secure areas. According to the CDC, human-surface interaction might be able to spread the Coronavirus through infected surfaces.
This makes thermal facial recognition technology a crucial technology to replace bio metric systems and fingerprint scanners that are widely used in buildings and work-spaces.
This, in turn, makes facial recognition much safer, though still not answering the broader question on Tethics. Rather.
In terms of technological ethics, I think the best answer is to contextualize the use-cases for such technologies. In cases of potential pandemics where invasive technology seems to be the only answer, the application provides unique benefits.
Yet, outside of this use-case, the concern for the dissolution of liberty is also valid, and the question that experts and governments have to answer is this, “where do we draw the line on the use of these modern technologies?”
South Korea is Leveraging modern technology to reduce the potential harm that can be caused by Corona virus, by limiting exposure to non-infected people using Big Data Platforms and Artificial Intelligence.
These measures provide great insights into what governments across the world can do to minimize the damage that can be caused in the absence of preventive measures.
Big Data Platforms and Artificial Intelligence
A Government-backed Big Data platform in South Korea is being used to store information about the local citizens and foreign residents and integrating them into the databases of government organizations, mobile operators, the healthcare industry, and other relevant industries.
Through this, any information that the Big-Data mining platform gathers is then integrated to various recipients such as the healthcare industry and other names above. This prompt data integration and sharing are done through Artificial Intelligence to ensure the accuracy of data.
When someone tests positive for Covid-19, their information is shared with the people living in the vicinity. This information includes their traveling plan and commute maps of the last two weeks through a mobile push notification. This informs citizens of the likelihood of them getting into close proximity of the infected person, and subsequently get tested if there was a risk of exposure.
Any Individual identified to have met the infected person with healthcare services receiving information on their contacts to identify those who met the infected. These people are then brought in for observation and tests to ensure that they are safe.
The effectiveness and efficiency of this procedure is heavily dependent on Artificial Intelligence and the use of modern technology to prevent any further exposure by executing preventive measures.
AI is also being used to identify possible clusters of the Corona virus, or areas that are under severe risk for the establishment of temporary medical services in those areas.
An AI-Based regulation is also ensuring that every person can only buy two masks and other preventive items at a time from medical stores using their ID. This has been an incredibly successful measure to ensure that there are no significant price hikes to essential items in the face of the outbreak.
These things are happening at run-time to ensure extremely efficient measures, all thanks to Big Data and Artificial Intelligence.
5G-based Drive-Through Labs
South Korea has also established drive-through testing for the novel Corona virus.
The drive-through test labs work in an incredibly simple manner. The mobile testing site allows people to drive in, provide their sample while sitting in their car, and get their results in a matter of minutes.
If an individual tests positive for the virus, they are immediately isolated and transferred to a special treatment facility. These testing sites are powered by 5G facilities thanks to mobile operators, to ensure run-time analysis and results.
In the face of outbreaks, South Korea’s response is a great case study that exhibits the power of technology in the global fight against this pandemic. There’s much to learn about the virus, but South Korea serves as an example from which we can learn a lot about the use of technology in fueling the preventive measures that governments can take around the globe to contain the virus to a good effect.
There are a few technologies that can help us to reduce the damage of the Coronavirus significantly:
• Artificial Intelligence and ML for treatment discovery and diagnosis.
• Autonomous Vehicles for the delivery of medical supplies
• Robots to minimize interaction with patients and carriers.
• Thermal imaging and facial recognition for monitoring of the disease and infected individuals – in public areas and quarantined zones.
• Big-Data and Mining For Awareness Campaigns
• 5G for Mobile Testing Sites Such As Those In South Korea.
The implementation of these technologies and platforms can help the collective fight against Covid-19 and its containment. In an ideal scenario, this conversation would not be needed, but the real-world scenario suggests that a final cure/treatment/vaccine is some time away and immediate actions are required to control its spread, and reduce casualties before a vaccine is made, scaled, and widely distributed across the globe.
Till then, on an individual level, we can work towards individual efforts to maintain our hygiene, wash our hands, as suggested by the CDC, and hope that modern technology proves itself in the wake of this crisis.