Sunil MiraniMay 06, 2020 14:00:46 IST
In 1918, the world faced a devastating pandemic of an avian origin virus, H1N1. It affected not only the health of people across the world, but also the global economy. It is estimated that about one-third of the world’s population was infected and that at least 50 million died. The lack of communication in the absence of technological advancements resulted in unfathomable damage.
Today, we are facing a comparable pandemic in which lives are drastically impacted and the economy is eroded. The COVID-19 outbreak is similar to the 1918 pandemic in terms of the rapid spread across countries and rising uncertainty.
However, technology and data has helped us respond faster. Technology and data are not only helping track the spread of the pandemic but also supporting advancements in healthcare — sophisticated equipment — thus assisting in detecting and controlling the disease.
Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are helping the world come up with smarter ways to deal with the disease. Many countries are leveraging AI to detect infections, inform healthcare systems, and deploy rapid actions to curb its spread.
In China, communities have turned to voice recognition bots to ask questions and recommend home quarantines. The bot collects and checks information such as personal identities, health conditions, and whereabouts, through multiple questions, and makes about 200 calls within five minutes compared to several hours taken to do it manually. Thus, monitoring and identification is faster and more efficient. In some hospitals in China, human cleaners are being replaced by robots to facilitate social distancing.
In India, the government has launched the Aarogya Setu app, which uses the phone’s location data and Bluetooth to assess if you have been near a person infected by COVID-19 by looking through a database of known cases. The app has a chatbot for users to determine if they have the disease’s symptoms. Alongside, it shares updates from the health ministry and helpline numbers for each state.
Here are some other ways AI and ML can help in India:
Making diagnosis more effective
One interesting solution is Computed Tomography (CT) Image analytics. On average, a COVID-19 patient has more than 2,000 CT images taken during hospitalisation. Manually reading and comparing image data for each patient requires great effort. AI can assist through quantitative analysis, speeding up analytics, avoiding errors caused by fatigue, and adjusting treatment plans on time.
Improving analysis and prediction
Websites like www.covidtracking.com and www.covid19india.org provide live updates. The base data, which consists of state-level, district-level and city-level updates, can be used for in-depth analysis. This can identify patterns and help write prediction algorithms, processing data hourly for a faster response.
These solutions will not only help detect the disease and warn people about the risk of contracting the disease, but also will help mitigate disruptions caused by panic and poor awareness. Technology like chat bots and AI on online platforms can help authorities share information and collect responses with minimum human intervention and draw inferences that benefit the society and the economy.
Businesses and companies can use these insights to plan and course-correct. It also helps them warn employees and put in place alternative methods of work continuity. Employers can develop AI-based platforms to track work, delegate it, and streamline processes, especially in the case of lockdowns or quarantines.
While technology advancements through AI and ML are helpful, they are not complete solutions to combat COVID-19. We need human wisdom and sensitivity more than ever to see beyond technology and solve problems for communities as well as the economy.
These are unchartered territories, and more will be discovered in the days to come. Combining human judgment and wisdom with technology and data could help us respond quickly to this pandemic and save economies from collapsing.
As they say, this too shall pass, and I add, hopefully with a lesser devastating aftermath than 1918.
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