Artificial Intelligence vs Future Pandemics

By Jeet Parikh


This year, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in unprecedented ways. 195 million people have lost their jobs worldwide. Major industries around the globe have collapsed. 1.13 million people have lost their lives, many without a loved one by their side. No one wants to repeat what we have experienced in the past year, so we must be more prepared if it comes to that. In this article, we’ll look at how Artificial Intelligence can help fight future pandemics.


To start, what is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Briefly, AI is the concept of a machine carrying out tasks in a “smart” manner. Machines can teach themselves to recognize specific patterns through repetitive learning. These mechanisms allow the machine to be adaptable, rather than following a rigid do-this do-that algorithm.


To fight a pandemic, we need to prevent, control, and respond to infections. Let’s see how AI can help in these areas.



Prevention:

Preventing a pandemic requires early prediction and action. There are a multitude of ways to predict outbreaks, many of which use the internet. Companies have used language processing algorithms to monitor global news outlets for reports on recent cases of infectious diseases. Search term frequency has also been used along with algorithms that cross-reference social media posts with disease databases. However, rigid algorithms might not work best when it comes to predicting outbreaks. Using AI, machines can detect their own patterns, many of which are noticeable by humans. This allows for a more practical approach, as the machine’s predictive ability improves each time an outbreak occurs. AI can easily detect red-flag symptoms and help alert both the patient and healthcare professionals. Early predictions can help cities and hospitals prepare, but if a pandemic is already raging, the projections become less precise. Thus, it is crucial to predict outbreaks and control them, which AI can also help with.


Control:

One way to control the spread of a pathogen is through contact tracing. It is vital to know how a person contracted the pathogen and to whom they have passed it on. Knowing this helps warn the people affected and ensures that they will not spread it to more people. AI can also determine the factors that cause outbreaks by analyzing large-scale data from cases. These factors can be reported to authorities to help them make policy decisions like travel bans, reopening circumstances, quarantine, etc.


Response:

AI can transform the response phase through the automatic monitoring of patients in hospitals and the accelerated development of vaccines. During the early stages, AI can provide treatment to patients, which lessens healthcare workers’ burden. This, in turn, will allow more patients to be admitted as healthcare workers will be able to attend to more of them. However, one of the only ways to end a pandemic is to develop a treatment, such as a vaccine. To accelerate vaccine testing, AI-powered models have been created that mimic the human immune system. These models can test trillions of scenarios, and this allows researchers to virtually test a possible vaccine candidate for side-effects without the complications of clinical trials. These advances will help accelerate the development of a vaccine and help defeat a pandemic.


Citations:

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/national-strategy/index.html


https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/07/covid-19-expected-to-to-wipe-out-67-of-worlds-working-hours


http://jmc.stanford.edu/artificial-intelligence/what-is-ai/index.html


https://www.wired.com/story/opinion-ai-powered-biotech-can-help-deploy-a-vaccine-in-record-time/


https://healthitanalytics.com/news/deep-learning-model-predicts-covid-19-surges-7-days-into-the-future


https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/12/905352/ai-could-help-with-the-next-pandemicbut-not-with-this-one/


Image Credit:

Anatomy Biology Brain - Free vector graphic on Pixabay

Coronavirus · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)



What Did You Learn?

Questions:

1. What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?


AI is the concept of a machine carrying out tasks in a “smart” manner. Machines can teach themselves to recognize specific patterns through repetitive learning. These mechanisms allow the machine to be adaptable, rather than following a rigid do-this do-that algorithm.


2. How can AI help prevent, control, and respond to infections?


AI can monitor many aspects of the internet, from news outlets to social media and even search term frequency. AI models can also identify red-flag symptoms to alert both patients and professionals. AI helps with contact tracing to ensure that the virus does not spread further. It can aid authorities in making tough decisions like travel bans, reopening, and quarantine. AI can also accelerate the vaccine development process to make them quicker and more effective.


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