A respiratory illness like influenza, caused by a virus that attacks the lungs, COVID-19 infects other humans through coughs and sneezes.
While pandemics are not new to humanity, we consider science and technology to be very far advanced and ourselves thus immune. History talks about several severe plagues and influenza attacks that decimated people in the millions. Yet, populations earlier were considerably lower compared to the present 7 billion and more. Medical science being undeveloped and technology non-existent then, it is understandable that too many died.
How the latest fatality figures read?
The nightmarish fairy tale of the COVID-19 outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, in 2019 has so far killed over 69,000 worldwide with 1273990 active cases. Among the worst affected are the USA with 9643 deaths, Spain with 12641 and Italy with 15887 deaths. India is a mild case with 109 deaths. The world anxiously waits to see what happens next amidst the mighty financial losses and home confinements in most countries.
How much will AI and ML help?
Indeed, a scenario that requires the handling of Big Data with maximum efficiency is it all for research alone? Can AI save human lives? It is too early to tell with the virus only three months old. Getting together the vaccine to control it seems to be light-years away, at least a year, say the experts. Yet, processing information and compiling statistics from across the world was never better or timelier than with AI.
Data cannot always be trusted and indeed, not nowadays with too much fake and outlier data. Sifting through the masses of data to verify what is authentic would be a mighty task indeed. Yet, credit goes to AI and ML for the high speed at which data processing is nowadays possible compared to manual workers.
Predicting the COVID-19 outbreak
1). Canadian BlueDot AI experience
While actual verifications may be complex, BlueDot predicted the COVID-19 outbreak on December 31, 2019. WHO was slow by comparison with their announcement on January 9, 2020. Researchers at BlueDot on January 14, 2020, listed the leading 20 destinations where passengers from Wuhan would arrive.
2). Tracking the COVID-19
Predicting how the 2015 Zika-virus would spread was possible through a neural system. Yet, a new model was needed for the COVID-19 based on the gathered data. Algorithms need to change. Everything is new, and accuracy faces many barriers like panic behaviour. While lots of Big Data may be available, like from social media, a refining moderation process is necessary.
3). The Susceptible, Infected, and Removed SIR model
While retraining prediction models is necessary, it cannot be said that AI and ML have been aiding the battle against COVID-19 so far. Prediction software works similarly for a number of purposes, be it economics or weather, politics and business, based on input data. Tracking and forecasting models do not often use AI, and instead, a formula-driven approach will suffice without running the extra mile.
4). Management of COVID-19 spread
Planning, preparing and managing the pandemic is certainly facilitated through tracking the situation with the regular input of valid data. Comparing different districts of a country or between countries does provide a lot to study, and trends may be well understood. Changes happening every minute, entering all the details from any part of the globe through the internet into secure software systems has proved invaluable. Administration and the medical fraternity, leaders and health monitoring agencies along with financial institutions, have the right information at the fingertips. AI and ML have been offering ample moral support in a world of misleading and fake news that crop up all the time.
5). Basic prevention tips
Nobody was serious at the early stages. It required a powerful media impact to attract attention. Three months later, we are still repeating the hand washing, avoiding crowds and mask-wearing lessons.
6). Resource allocation
Nobody knew that money and materials, time and people were so precious! Now they are all suddenly in short supply with big business grinding to a halt and billions of dollars needed to help them along. Yet, nobody knows how it all will end. Meanwhile, software and technology can suggest how best to deploy what resources are available and when and where.
Now it is time to study the global data dashboards!
It is just like sitting in the car and taking in everything at a glance. BBC, New York Times, HealthMap and NextStrain are some leading dashboards that put together the data so vividly. Microsoft Bing’s AI tracker should be counted among the best. Data Visualization may be a part of every kind of technology-based study. Now the dashboards reflect what seems to be a global massacre in seemingly attractive layouts.
Technology in the Diagnostic realm
AI has proved to be as accurate as human workers! The timely diagnosis could save lives in theory, but the lifesaving vaccine is far from ready though many theories abound. Some chemicals destroy the virus and injecting antibodies from recovered patients may cure it. Nothing is confirmed yet. Compared to standard testing for COVID-19, technology would work faster and cheaper too with X-ray images. Maybe mobile phones could carry out the scanning of CT images?
Though not yet put into practice, the possibilities are vast. Chinese hospitals are reported to be using AI-assisted radiology technologies but will such images spread the disease further?
COVID-19 compared to previous outbreaks
Don’t forget that SARS killed 916 people and MERS destroyed 858 lives. Those were little in comparison to the 2020 monster that does not hesitate to kill. On March 11 came the pandemic announcement by the WHO.
The most severe pandemic in history occurred in 1918 amidst the war called the Spanish flu. As many as 50 million are believed to have perished. In the late 1950s, Yunnan in China witnessed another flu outbreak that destroyed one million lives. Some years later came the Hong Kong flu that killed a similar number. The H1N1 pandemic in 2009 killed 6 million.
Technology helps spread data quickly
Saving the planet today remains the most urgent challenge. Under the circumstances, rather than money and materials alone, it is information that will enlighten the darkness of ignorance. Not only remote desert and forest regions but sophisticated New York requires help from overseas not only with ventilators but expertise regarding their use.
Online learning and interactive teaching methods through software systems will spread the latest techniques and research findings. It is an age of video-conferencing that can work wonders. The soft world has overtaken the hard copies that will take too long to travel. Soft copies travel in a moment around the globe.
What is everybody doing at home?
Those professionally occupied through computers at home are lucky. Children study virtual classes. Yet, all work is not possible from home. The virtual world takes you for a fabulous ride through European museums and American national parks. Relieve the monotony amidst work and study sessions. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will witness an early ending. Wait and see.
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