Technology vs. Calamity

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Combating coronavirus with the best modern tech has to offer

Humanity is currently facing a pandemic that can potentially wreak untold havoc upon the human population of the world. Ever since the first reported arrival of COVID-19, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, more than 13,000 lives have been lost around the globe. The origin of the virus was in Wuhan, China, and although it failed to contain the virus, the nation nonetheless took a great many commendable steps to battle the disease – many of which would not have been possible without the prompt mobilization of their highly advanced technology sector. Chinese technology behemoths, such as Huawei, Baidu and Alibaba, played critical roles in rolling out the necessary healthcare implements to deal with the threat. Aside from logistical support, the technologies that saw the most use during this time were artificial intelligence (or AI, as it is commonly known) and data science, particularly when tracking the spread of the virus as well as its effects on its victims, which went on to help with their treatment. With the eager participation of civil servants, academic leaders and medical professionals, nations around the world are working hard to contain the spread of coronavirus, and they are using technology in a myriad of ways to ensure that it happens effectively and efficiently.

Infravision, a company specializing in artificial intelligence-powered research, played an instrumental part in enabling medical personnel by designing an AI-powered solution to quickly and correctly identify cases of coronavirus. Their AI solution vastly improved upon the slow speeds of computerized tomography (CT) scans, allowing a great deal of time to be saved in hospitals with overloaded imaging departments because of the spread of the pandemic.
Alibaba, the most well-known e-commerce titan from China, also harnessed the power of AI to develop a rapid diagnostic solution with a success rate of over 95%, taking only a matter of seconds, which, compared to traditional methods, makes a great difference.

The role of AIs in the fight against COVID-19 does not end at the disease’s diagnosis and treatment. Since artificial intelligence can be trained to observe and deduce patterns while parsing through complex data sets, a Canadian startup by the name of BlueDot developed an AI to track the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus and determine outbreak situations based on information gleaned from the intensive analysis of government-released documents and notices, social media platforms, research documents, and news reports. BlueDot’s artificial intelligence has been used to track the risks of other infectious diseases in the past, and in this particular instance, it correctly issued a warning about the coronavirus outbreak multiple days ahead of the government-issued notices, as well as the notice sent out by the World Health Organization itself. This service is still being used to monitor the spread of the virus.

To provide further logistical support in outbreak-affected areas, a company called Terra Drone has been using its fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles – commonly known as drones – to transport quarantine material, medical supplies and samples between hospitals and disease centers in China, without needing to risk human lives in the process. Drones have proven to be multipurpose and extremely versatile in these dire situations, as they can be mobilized with various kinds of hardware loadouts for different purposes, such as the monitoring of public locations, thermal imaging of large areas, or tracking if quarantine mandates are being complied to properly. Similarly, many tasks that would have ordinarily required the potentially life-threatening involvement of human personnel have been relegated to robots, such as delivering medication and food, as well as the sterilization of hospitals and clinics. In case of outbreaks like coronavirus, which can only be slowed down or stopped through the prevention of interpersonal physical contact, and the encouragement of social distancing, these machines are actively reducing the need for such situations. A number of special robots have been developed by a firm called Blue Ocean Robotics to terminate viruses and bacteria using ultraviolet light without requiring human intervention.

Technology is also helping hospitals and healthcare entities to deal with the massive amount of administrative work that are required for the processing of a contagion as dire as the coronavirus, given the vast spike in the number of patients that usually accompany these situations. A company called Ant Financial has developed a blockchain platform that not only greatly accelerates the processing of claims, but also helps to minimize the personal interaction between hospital personnel and their patients, which aligns perfectly with the prevention mechanism for the virus.

Google used the formidable processing power of its DeepMind AI platform to gain greater understanding of the makings of this virus, going on to release their discoveries for the benefit of researchers. Another company called BenevolentAI is using their artificial intelligence systems to determine pharmaceutical solutions for the treatment of COVID-19, including existing drugs that can be useful in this case. It has already proposed several possible solutions, which have been successfully used to treat the disease in numerous cases. Huawei, DiDi and Tencent are also utilizing their massive resources to develop possible vaccines or cures for this disease.

Regional surveillance systems as well as ‘smart helmets’ have enabled the authorities in China to run real-time facial recognition and thermal scans in order to track individuals displaying abnormal (i.e. feverish) body temperatures, who may be carrying the virus. The travel histories of citizens are also being monitored around the world to determine their chances of carrying the virus.

Aside from these purposes, technology is also being used to facilitate more ordinary matters, such as the dissemination of warnings, health guidelines and travel information through the use of automated chatbots, or the provision of health consultancy over instant messaging platforms. Research is also taking place to develop superior types of face masks, such as the antibacterial ones developed by Sonovia, a startup from Israel.

The COVID-19 outbreak has clearly shown us how important technology is when dealing with such catastrophes, when saving lives is of the utmost importance, under the pressure of limited time and resources, even with severe restrictions in place. Had it not been for modern technology, the death tolls would have numbered far higher, perhaps orders of magnitude more.

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