How COVID-19 is increasing the adaptation of AI and why it matters



Seth Adler
04/27/2020

COVID-19 is changing the way the world works. From social distancing to policy making, the impact of these changes will ripple far into the future. If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps global pandemics are the father of implementation.

Artificial Intelligence, a powerful yet slow-to-adapt tool, is having a moment of resurgence during these uncertain times. As we desperately search for answers to the many problems COVID-19 has put in front of us, AI shows up time and time again as a viable solution. Many of these options have been on the market for some time, but interest in them is growing as businesses, medical professionals, and society at large desperately seek to utilize any possible tool in the fight against COVID-19. This explosion of new AI use will likely permanently move AI adaptation ahead by leaps instead of baby steps.

How AI helps businesses during COVID-19

Businesses are suffering. Restaurants are closed or limited to take-out options. Even then, consumers are nervous about the safety of the product they receive. AI companies like Dragontail Systems QT are actively reaching out to small and large businesses to ensure the safety and confidence in employees and clients through their novel monitoring systems.

Restaurants in particular tyare typically slow to adapt new technology. However, desperate times lead to innovative solutions. With Dragontail Systems QT, which runs about $50 to $500 a month to operate, AI monitors employee cleanliness compliance, including handwashing and the proper use of protective gear. Other features include managing the supply chain to eliminate waste, quality testing, and real-time updates to customers.

Domino’s rolled out the system last May to lukewarm reception. Some employees were uncomfortable with the idea being monitored, but Dragontail ensures that the top-down view of the cameras keeps faces and identities secure. After all, AI isn’t meant to be the end-all/be-all solution. Instead, it is another tool in the toolbelt for restauranteurs to increase the confidence of its potential customers and ensure the safety of everybody.

AI-assisted home assessments for COVID-19 decrease hospital load

Chatbots offer a boots-on-the-ground resource for organizations to bridge service gaps. They are a popular tool in banking and retail, but concerned patients traditionally seek out medical help via human services. However, COVID-19 is creating a bottleneck in the healthcare system. Hospitals are overtaxed and it can be an unnecessary risk to seek medical attention in person.

Scout is a conversational chatbot released by Intermountain Healthcare that uses its patient AI platform to self-assess symptoms of COVID-19 and their risk profile for contracting COVID-19. Scout then generates specific articles and resources for individuals based on the input it receives. While the expected disclaimers are clearly communicated to those who use the tool, its guidance helps streamline the process for intake procedures and helps with the bottleneck that many medical facilities are experiencing due to COVID-19.

Scout bases its assessments and resources on WHO and CDC guidelines. AI technologies enable Scout to stay updated with the most current information in a time where information changes nearly hourly. Additionally, by crowd-sourcing the data Scout receives, doctors and scientists are better equipped to garner new insights into this mysterious disease.

AI diagnostics tools increase positive patient outcomes

Time is of the essence when treating COVID-19. In worst-case scenarios, the disease rapidly overtakes the lungs and necessitates interventions like oxygen and ventilators. Testing is also critical to the fight against Coronavirus so known cases can be traced, isolated, and quarantined. Medical professionals who are frustrated by the access to, and accuracy of, COVID-19 swab tests are increasingly turning to CTs to diagnose. In fact, in a recent study out of China, CT scans accurately diagnosed Coronavirus 97% of the time. In the same study, 48% of patients who tested negative on swab tests ended up having the disease.

Of course, a new problem arises as CT scans for COVID-19 increases: access to human talent. CTs can sit for hours in the queue before a doctor has an opportunity to examine them. Every hour matters when it comes to notifying known contacts to the patient and treating the disease.

Qure.ai is trained using millions of images to highlight lung abnormalities in chest X-rays. Its qXR system is now being used to identify COVID-19. While the technology was originally intended to double-check human readings, it is currently prescreening scans of patients who are most at risk of Coronavirus. Qure.ai repurposed its traditional tool with the help of experts. It uses deep learning models and our current knowledge of COVID-19 traits to detect symptoms such as signs of pneumonia and the “ground glass” pattern in the lungs Coronavirus is known to produce. It also monitors the daily progression of Coronavirus patients without burdening the radiology team.

AI is assisting in the search for a cure

BenevolentAI is a London-based artificial intelligence startup for scientific innovation. Currently, it is using big data, machine learning, and natural language processing to comb through drug industry data and scientific research papers in order to identify potential treatments for COVID-19. The arthritis drug baricitinib was singled out by BenevolentAI and shows enough promise that Eli Lilly is beginning a randomized trial to test its efficacy and safety as a COVID-19 treatment.

Peter Richardson, BenevolentAI’s VP of Pharmacology, had this to say in an interview with TechCrunch: “If you turned the BenevolentAI 250-person team and turned all of them into 65-year-old ex-pharmacology teachers, it would have taken probably a year to come up with this treatment. Instead, it took my three colleagues working two hours a day, and myself working full time, three days to come up with this. We’ve gone from computer to bedside, as it were, in two months.”

Conclusion

In the last decade, the use of artificial intelligence moved from science fiction to reality. Still, that reality has been slow to go mainstream as industries, regulatory bodies, and popular opinion are wary of its implications. COVID-19 and 2020 is ushering in a new era of uncertainty. The consequences of the effects of Coronavirus won’t fully be realized for years to come. Artificial intelligence, then, offers solutions that may ease the societal and industrial burden of COVID-19. The adaptation of AI in the fight against Coronavirus has the potential to change public opinion and the AI regulatory landscape in a way that—once this is all over—will keep AI in the forefront of the innovation landscape.

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