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5 ways AI and humanity are designing a defense against Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Chris: Hi Aimé, it’s been a while since our last conversation about superhuman abilities.

Aimé: Hello Chris, as an AI assistant, How can I help you today?

Chris: As you are no doubt aware, we’re in the midst of a once-in-a-century global pandemic caused by the coronavirus.

Aimé: Yes, I’ve been tracking it. The COVID-19 virus is impacting everyone throughout the world. At the time of this writing, there are more than 700,000 confirmed cases, in more than 140 countries.

Chris: The virus is touching every aspect of our daily lives; our social interactions, our family life, our communities — in addition to the immense economic ramifications.

Aimé: This pandemic is something the 21st century has never experienced before at this scale; with the need to centralize decisions, rapidly ramp up manufacturing, enable supply chains, and deploy mass distribution for; face masks, ventilators, medicines, personal and field hospitals.

Chris: People are working tirelessly day and night to help get through these challenging times. Individuals and communities are banding together to vitally help one another.

Aimé: There are numerous headlines of everyday heroes and organizations fighting COVID-19 with a steadfast mission of commitment in keeping people safe.

Chris: To that end, I want to discuss with you how AI is helping co-design a defense against the coronavirus and how it’s unleashing the societal and business value of design.

Aimé: Oxford professor Colin Mayer’s definition of “producing profitable solutions to problems of people and planet” applies to this situation.

Chris: To overcome the coronavirus, we must work not only together to solve this problem, but also amplify human intelligence with computational intelligence.

Aimé: AI provides tools to help connect the dots, connecting individuals, communities, businesses, and socioeconomics to address these challenges. Technology, and specifically AI, can help across industries and people the world over for the betterment of humanity. And certainly, to aid in this fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Chris: With that in mind, let’s discuss five ways that human invention and artificial intelligence are co-designing a defense against coronavirus.

1. Tracking the virus

Chris: Have you heard of the initiatives from Bluedot?

Aimé: Bluedot has created an algorithm using AI to scan large inputs of news reports in 65 languages from all over the world, animal and plant disease networks, and other public materials to provide warnings to people about danger zones where the outbreak is severe. Bluedot sends reports to public health officials, airlines, hospitals, and other areas where infected patients may end up.(1)

Chris: I also read about John Brownstein, the Chief Innovation Officer at Harvard Medical School. What do you know about his work?

Aimé: John Brownstein has created machine learning tools to mine public information from social media posts, newsreports and public health channels — from that,he finds warnings of areas where a virus outbreak is occurring.

Chris: He looks for people posting about their symptoms, and if they appear to be related to COVID-19 to spot potential hot spots. Similar to Bluedot, except it focuses on social media.(2)

2. Diagnosing Coronavirus

Aimé: There are companies investigating how to diagnose coronavirus earlier, since early detection can reduce the number of people exposed and get treatment to the sick person more quickly.

Chris: FluSense, is a new AI-powered system that monitors coughing sounds in real-time. By analyzing the data, FluSense can guide public health responses and alert individuals that they have the virus earlier.(3)

3. Identify new treatments

Aimé: Another challenge is that drug treatments currently take a decade or more to move to the market, with failure rates exceeding 90%. Alex Zhavoronkov, CEO of Insilico Medicine, believes they can use AI to accelerate this process and make it cheaper and more likely to succeed.

Chris: There are at least five AI-centered companies that are doing research and developing products to fight coronavirus. These include Deargen, Insilico Medicine, SRI Biosciences, Iktos, and Benevolent AI.(4)

Aimé: There is a growing consensus that AI can accelerate drug discovery.

Chris: AI has already discovered a few new drugs in other disease states and is now working to improve the speed to market for the treatment of the coronavirus.

Aimé: AI is scanning millions of chemicals for drug possibilities in simulation tests. It can do this faster than humans alone can. Additionally, AI is helping identify future targets for the new drugs.

4. Better understand for faster mitigation

Chris: In many fields, AI has been used to quickly search through research and other papers to cross-reference them, detect for patterns, and sift through metadata to draw insights. For future pandemics, this approach can help experts better target their research, development, and crisis-management capabilities.

Aimé: Three companies, Microsoft Research, the National Library of Medicine, and the Allen Institute for AI, gathered tens of thousands of papers that were in some way related to coronaviruses (COVID-19 is one type of coronavirus). With the goal of trying to find the answers to crucial questions about these viruses to help identify risk factors and treatments.(5)

5. Detections of new pandemics

Chris: The coronavirus pandemic highlights, how important it is to detect potential future pandemics.

Aimé: Metabiota is a company that uses a data-driven approach to aid in tracking the spread of infectious diseases in real-time.

Chris: We must be mindful of the accuracy of the data — anomalies can skew an otherwise proper technique and produce the wrong results.

Aimé: It’s promising that Bluedot was able to identify the COVID-19 virus using data analytics and AI.(6) (7)


Chris: It’s clear that the world is facing a severe crisis. As the pandemic unfolds it will result in dramatic changes to the human condition. In these times of tremendous unpredictability, the ability to stay focused on the collective good will be the utmost importance.

Aimé: The global healthcare system will evolve, fueling the need for a paradigm shift, and other areas of society will undoubtably have to adjust and change forever — just as it has for the betterment of society after other times of crisis.

Chris: Fortunately, we now have powerful tools such as AI, big data and human creativity at our disposal to respond to this outbreak and future challenges.

Aimé: In the days, weeks and months that follow with this crisis, humanity will need to come together to fight this pandemic. As such individuals, societies, and businesses more than ever before are connecting via well designed AI-powered digital experiences. People can now, be working, schooling, training, communicating, collaborating, and entertained from wherever they are.

Chris: Aided by AI, humankind will have superhuman capabilities to overcome this crisis on this path to the next normal. I’m reminded of the saying “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”










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