Coronavirus outbreak: China’s use of Artificial Intelligence for COVID-19

Coronavirus outbreak, China, Artificial Intelligence, COVID-19, Coronavirus epidemic, Big Data, Machine Learning, BlueDot, WHO

By Dr AjeyLele

So far China is known to have more than 3200 fatal cases owing to the Covid-19 epidemic. Currently, this infection has engulfed almost the entire world. Although, this infection began at China, but it was a Canadian AI (Artificial Intelligence) start-up based at Toronto that had spotted this infection first. BlueDot is an AI-based infectious disease surveillance system. This platform searches the world 24 by 7, for any possible largescale disease, spread. Platforms like this use various new and emerging technologies like AI, Big Data and Machine Learning. This agency got the indication of the possible pandemic around December 30, 2019. The company did alert their clients about a cluster of "unusual pneumonia" found around a market in Wuhan. Nine days after this, the World Health Organization issued their alert about the emergence of a novel coronavirus. BlueDot's has a good track record and is known to have made predictions about the Zika (2016) and Ebola (2014) in the past.

China was possibly less prepared to timely predict the possible outbreak of a pandemic, however subsequently, they are found usingAI and other technologies in a big way to control the threat.

At present, AI and associated technologies are not fully developed technologies. AI is actually much far away from imitating human intelligence. However, still, these technologies at the present level of their development cycle are found proving useful. These AI-based platforms are doing a significant amount of data crunching of the entire health, food, poultry, fisheries and tourism sectors. Subsequently, based on custom-made algorithms they are drawing inferences. Today, data science and machine learning are two important tools which are known to helping the fight against Covid-19.

At present, various tech giants and start-ups are burning midnight 'ampere' to fight with the Covid-19 threat. In China, the technology leaders like Alibaba, Baidu and Huawei are working with the government agencies to nullify this threat. Alibaba is using specific applications like the CT Image Analytics Solutions in mass testing. AI-based mathematical modelling are used for predicting the probability of different pneumonia types. Techniques like the lung segmentation methods, which are normally used for identifying the exact region of interest for infection assessment, are known to be almost 60 times faster than human detection and are in use. Also, platforms like the Epidemic Prediction Solution play an important role to map specific epidemic characteristics of the virus. Alibaba Cloud is running a virus genome sequencing application which is helping to diagnose new coronavirus cases within a few hours. The company claims that this is five times faster method than the existing other methods.

A Chinese company famous for providing China's version of GPS (satellite-based navigation) called Baidu is using specific AI technologies like the Computer Vision algorithms that allow computers to understand and label images. Such technologies with the infrared sensors are put in use for creating peoples temperature profiles (in just a few seconds) in public areas like airports etc. Also, AI is helping to shorten the 'events' during drug research. The need of the hour is to have a drug as well as vaccine ready for use in the shortest possible time. Particularly, in case of vaccines, if the existing norms are followed towards the production and testing then it may take a few years' time to bring the vaccine in the market. Today, AI is helping to speed up this process for Covid-19.

Coronavirus being a highly contagious virus is proving hazardous even for the medical community. Here various robotic systems are finding greater utility. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are put in use for the transport of medical samples and quarantine material. In addition, there are robotic systems (Drones) capable of undertaking policing activities and are offering assistance to ensure quarantine compliance. Pandemics are known to generate psychological problems too. Technologies like AI could be of much use not only for monitoring the behaviour of the virus, but also that of humans. At present, they are getting used for pattern generation and assessment to understand human behaviour and response.

Today, China is fighting the Covid-19 challenge by using new technologies like AI. For the last few years, there has been a much of debate in regards to the ethical and moral aspects of AI. The basic issue has always been whether AI should be used in the field of medicine 'to take life and death decisions'? Since the number of Covid-19 infected patients is too large, it is becoming difficult to provide human attention to everyone. Today, AI can decide a good patient and a bad (the one whose chances of survival are less) patient. Obviously, there would be a decision dilemma for the doctor in regards to whom to treat first.

All in all, the present Chinese response to Covid-19 it appears to be majorly based on technologies like the AI and various other data science technologies. However, the same technologies are also putting them in an 'ethical quandary'.

(The author is a Senior Fellow at MP-IDSA, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.)