Open Site Navigation

Using Artificial Intelligence to Combat Covid-19

As well as increasing the efficiency of organizations, Martin Belton explains how AI is helping us in the fight against coronavirus.

As fears over the Covid-19 coronavirus continue to grow, scientists are turning to artificial intelligence to help them understand more and combat it at every level. There are three areas that AI is helping us combat Covid-19:

  1. Revealing patterns of infections to inform citizens and public policy

  2. Provide diagnosis quickly and effectively to quarantine and treat those infected

  3. Develop treatments and vaccines and then evaluate their effectiveness

Online technologies have already helped organizations to compile a number of online resources which provide up-to-date information about the disease. These include Healthmap from Oxford University and John Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

And AI is already helping us to understand how we can reduce the spread of Covid-19. In the UK for example, the BBC modeled data on infectious diseases using virtually infected mobile phones. It was this that helped to validate the now widespread and accepted advice that by washing our hands thoroughly, we can dramatically slow the spread of Covid-19.

AI has also played a pivotal role to help us understand this initial outbreak. One of the first organizations to identify this as a new medical issue was Canadian infectious disease specialists Blue Dot. By using a combination of medical and airline data, their machine learning algorithms picked up information in Chinese about unknown pneumonia centered around the market in Wuhan. Their team quickly recognized there were parallels to the SARS outbreak 17 years earlier. This helped us understand the risks involved; how contagious the disease might be and the wider risk to human life.

Other organizations are using AI to predict how the Covid-19 might be affected by seasonality. In the Northern hemisphere, upper respiratory pneumonias and viruses peak in the winter months but then decline. AI is already being used to help us predict how the warmer summer weather might combat this spread.

But there is more to the contribution of AI than just tracking the virus. AI can also contribute to the creation of the vaccine as well as other drugs. It does this by providing a better understanding of the mechanism of the disease. By correlating data on drugs, illnesses, and their outcomes, AI can dramatically improve the amount of information on offer. This data, covering diseases, vaccines, symptoms, and more are then crunched together to form new patterns and relationships which can then reveal surprising new information.

One result of this testing and searching is that, instead of looking for and creating new viral drugs to cure the disease, AI has identified potential existing drugs which may combat the disease. One drug, in particular, may be able to both inhibit the spread and reduce the effects of the disease on the lungs (the most common cause of death from the virus). Typically used to deal with Rheumatoid Arthritis, the drug must still be tested and approved before it can be used to combat Covid-19.

AI can also be used to understand the genetic sequence of a disease. That is where it’s come from and where it’s going to in the future. This can also be used to combat the spread of the disease.

AI cannot yet just be used to find a direct and immediate cure for the disease, however, it will be essential in evaluating proposed therapies to speed those to market. And let us take a moment to thank all of the human scientists, using their talents, to inform us in the short term, cure us in the medium term and keep us safe for the long term.