As I sat in my study, locked down to my home, I have been researching the ways computing in general and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in particular can help fight the Corona Virus effectively. To get an answer to this question, we first need to figure out the main pain points of the CoronaVirus Pandemic and then see how AI can help address each of these pain points. As the Pandemic panned out, the Governments across the world faced several major crises. These included the following:

  • Effective Management of the large number of people carrying the Coronavirus and isolating them to ensure that they do not spread the disease further.
  • Search for an effective solution to the disease either as a cure or as a vaccine.
  • Deciding on whom to test and whom not to test.
  • Identification of the Corona hotspots and effective Management of these hotspots.
  • Statistical Analysis of the COVID data.
  • Effective Patient management in hospitals and ICUs
  • The effective supply of medicines and medical equipment to the hospitals and COVID wards across cities
  • Effective dissemination of right information
  • Effective Management of Law and order situation in designated areas.
  1. Each of the above issues lends itself snuggly for the effective application of AI techniques and applications. Let us investigate each of them:

Management of Coronavirus Patients

We need to face a simple fact. The number of cases reported across the news channels is only the ones that get reported at the hospitals. Many more cases never get reported. Given the negative image and stigma attached to Corona, people carrying light symptoms or even marginally severe symptoms are unlikely to report these to either the hospitals or even to the doctors, unless it becomes a dire necessity. There is an immediate need to identify such cases and isolate them so that they do not infect others with the same virus. AI can crunch massive data from reported patients, people returning from foreign Corona hotspot destinations, cities, districts, and areas within India which are fast becoming Corona hotspots. Such data crunching shall throw up specific locations and groups of people who need to be immediately tested and isolated. This shall greatly ease the pressure to lockdown the entire country.

Search for an Effective Solution to the Virus

Google’s DeepMind Division used their AI algorithms to isolate the virus strands and made that discovery available to the companies working on developing a vaccine for the virus. Benevolent AI, A company engaged in drug discovery in the UK, worked on the available drug data and the Coronavirus strand data to suggest existing drugs which could prove to be useful for the treatment of the patients. Many similar investigations are currently going on to fast forward the process of drug discovery and the development of a CoronaVirus. We should hope to find a cure for the virus earlier than later. Thanks to the use of AI algorithms crunching massive volumes of virus and drug data; some alternative solutions like (Hydro chloroquine) have been suggested. However, their impact on managing COVID is not understood as yet.

Deciding on Prime Candidates for Testing

Given the availability of the limited number of Virus testing kits and a phenomenally large number of cases, it is necessary to test people with the highest probability of carrying the disease. This decision is not simple. Some simple manual algorithms have been applied in terms of testing only people above a certain age or showing advanced symptoms of the disease. However, there is a large number of those who show no symptoms but carry the virus and spread it to far-flung areas. Adding data values of travel history, contact with known Corona patients, history of having lived in Corona hotspots, etc can help zero in on a group of people highly likely to be carrying the virus. This shall help isolate such people and effectively stop the spread of the disease.

Identification and Management of Corona Hotspots

Identification of the Corona Patients and testing of the most probable group of virus carriers can lead to the areas that have a concentration of such people. AI techniques can be effectively used to crunch the demographic data of the Corona carriers and patients to correctly identify such hotspots in real-time. The availability of such data with law enforcement agencies can help them bring stricter controls on the movement of people and control the spread of the disease.

Statistical Analysis of the COVID Data

Governments across the globe are being called upon to take very harsh measures to control the spread of the disease. While these measures (Like the complete lockdown of the country) may check the spread of the disease, they shall also adversely impact the economies and the livelihood of the people over a period of time. Hence the governments are closely monitoring the trends to reverse the harsh steps as soon as the situation begins to improve. Thus, the number of new patients, Death rates, Rate of spread of the disease, etc are critical indicators that the government needs to monitor continuously to take corrective steps as soon as possible. Accuracy of such steps will critically depend upon the accuracy of the underlying data and the accurate application of statistical algorithms to such data. All this can be managed very effectively using Artificial Intelligence techniques and algorithms.

Effective Patient Management in Hospitals

Number of patients in the hospitals and the ICUs is going up exponentially every day. Hospitals just do not have enough beds, enough medicines, enough oxygen and enough ventilators to provide to every needy patient. At such a point it is most important to know how best to utilize the existing equipment and supplies to maximize human life through its best use. All hospital equipment feeding into a single AI algorithm can help achieve such efficiency. Take, for example, ventilators feeding data into a centralized computing device that figures out which patient’s saturation levels are good enough to take him off the ventilator exactly at a precise time and can maximize the use of this scary equipment and maximize their use to save human life. Similar use cases can be developed for patient admissions, effective use of Oxygen & medication, use of specific drugs, etc.

Effective Supply of Medicines and Medical Equipment

At a time when social distancing and complete lockdowns have permeated across the globe, the supply of essential medication and equipment to remote locations is a huge challenge. AI-driven drones are already being used by companies like Tera drone to undertake supply of such essential commodities to hospitals and homes in a locked-down city. This can greatly ease the situation for citizens and hospitals to manage the situation.

Effective Dissemination of Information

Information or misinformation is spreading through social media, through news channels and grape wine fast and wide. Ascertaining which piece of information is right and which is wrong is a big challenge. Google is already using deep learning to project the right piece of information from the wrong one, after filtering the data through millions of data elements on its database.

Effective Management of Law & Order Situation

Police force across all nations is stretched to their limits with citizen control, enforcing social distancing, moving sick to the hospitals, managing and cremating the dead, etc. Cameras installed across every nook and corner of the city feeding into an AI-based system is effectively guiding their operations to maximize their throughputs. At a time when the law enforcement agencies need to work at maximum efficiency, computing and AI is helping them to produce maximum efficiency with limited effort.

2. It cannot be argued that computing and Artificial Intelligence is the final answer to all the questions posed by the COVID Pandemic. Unless a cure or a vaccine is finally found to control this virus, humanity shall continue to suffer at the hands of this daemon. However, AI is right at the forefront of helping find such a vaccine or a cure and help tame the situation until such a solution is not found. Till a solution comes our way, stay at a safe social distance from people.

 

About the Author

Pradeep Valsangkar, MD & Chief Consultant, GCS Consulting Services Pvt. Ltd

Wg. Cdr. Pradeep Valsangkar is a postgraduate Engineer from the IAF. He completed his B.E in Electrical Engineering from MACT Bhopal, M.Tech in Computer Science from IIT Powai and MBA in Finance from FMS Delhi. He is also a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College of India. After leaving service he has worked in various capacities across different IT services companies. He has been working as a senior consultant of the world bank for the last 15 years, a visiting faculty at the Institute of Management technology and runs his consulting firm Global Consulting Solutions.

He can be reached at pradeep@gcsindia.com or 9811202528