By Katie Mowery,
Director, Content Strategy at Clarity Insights

For years now, the debate of man versus machine has waged on—despite the flaws of this forced dichotomy—illuminating the need for stronger ethics in the field of AI while also reiterating the importance of artificial intelligence in enhancing jobs, rather than replacing them. In today’s crisis, we’ve seen unwavering proof of the humanity driving technological advancement: as AI offers solutions to combat COVID-19, there’s some much-needed good news to offset the bad in support of healthcare professionals working tirelessly to maintain order and restore health to the community. Here are some ways AI—and the people behind it—are helping the cause.



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    1. Forecasting current and future outbreaks. As this Forbes article shows, AI start-ups like Canada-based BlueDot are pooling social media records, government documents and news to track the spread of the disease and recognize patterns to alert stakeholders of threats that match activity elsewhere. And efforts like those of the Microsoft Bing team with its interactive case tracker map help visualize disease concentration while enabling the public to make sense of information closest to home. When speed and accuracy save lives, having AI provide guidance to aid the CDC in preparation to issue statements to the public helps to communicate what is known, as it’s developing—and if that is days in advance or mere moments, any amount of time gained helps in the fight to contain the spread.  
    2. Disease detection. Diagnosis is a major concern surrounding COVID-19 outbreak right now, with test shortages at the onset of the pandemic in the U.S. causing initial alarm. As new testing options become available, the need for accuracy and availability is still paramount, helping to make informed decisions and predictions based on new cases introduced and total confirmed cases. To understand the severity of infection and as symptoms of the virus continue to be observed and documented, AI jumps in to help make sense of the data as the influx of global cases and new information continues to enter consideration. From lung imaging enhancements to database matching, AI works with doctors to make sense of what’s available for comparison—like this AI solution created by Alibaba, claiming 96% accuracy in diagnosing Coronavirus against viral Pneumonia cases in a fraction of time (20 seconds from up to 15 minutes manually reviewing hundreds of images from scans to evaluate).
    3. Access to medical advice. In order to ensure those experiencing symptoms can be positively diagnosed, monitored and self-quarantined without overwhelming our healthcare system, lines of communication between those feeling ill at home and medical professionals need to be strengthened and further opened for access. Microsoft’s chatbot developed in partnership with the CDC is one example of innovation at work, helping to prevent additional stress on medical staff already stretched thin by allowing routine questions to be answered by AI logic. This self-checker isn’t meant to diagnose or treat the virus (or replace calling your doctor), but rather to help the public make sense of symptoms and evaluate whether urgent medical attention is needed as a single step of many for smart care in crisis. This is one effort to triage hospital entrants from those who fall ill and remain at home; other types of automation can help inventory symptoms assessed as more interaction volume accrues, gathering intelligence to inform the work of researchers evaluating treatment options. 
    4. Meeting increased demand for home delivery. As Amazon, Instacart and others scramble to hire enough emergency workers to meet the increased demand, there are other forces at work to ensure that supply chains aren’t crucially disrupted—and people can stay at home: robots. Stocking and pulling from warehouse shelves, AI is doing its part to minimize touchpoints for disease transmission and human-to-human contact, so that those delivering to your door remain well amidst other precautionary measures taken. Robots like those made by Blue Ocean Robotics are even sanitizing as they work, using ultra-violet light to kill bacteria and viruses—as the Forbes article reported. Let’s not forget the work of drones in delivering medical supplies and extracting samples from hospitals; a key strategy used in China that may be valuable to ramp up here. 
    5. Equipping researchers with computing power. As all of this unfolds, researchers are hard at work in parallel to find a cure or vaccine. Many companies have donated cloud-based resources and supercomputers to crunch calculations and run models that would otherwise take years; a high performance computing consortium has been established, bringing together the federal Energy Department, IBM, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, among others, to rise to the occasion. At a time where it’s easy to feel helpless, this is one way the public can also help: programs like Folding@Home run on personal devices in the background to leverage computing power when not in use. Looks like a way to fire up those old desktops collecting dust in the basement—to help in the relief effort.

Here at Clarity Insights, we’re committed to staying on the top of the news alongside our partners and customers, so that we can tackle the unknown together. If you’re a healthcare organization in need of support at this time, let’s talk

 

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