Friday, June 12, 2020

How AI and Blockchain Are Helping to Fight COVID-19

Vadim Dolt
Technology / Innovation

Medical professionals and first responders have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic since it started its spread throughout the globe. A multitude of technologies have been deployed in the fight with COVID-19 including artificial intelligence and blockchain. Hopefully these modern technologies will help shorten the duration of the pandemic and the number of casualties. 

 

Artificial intelligence and blockchain can help overworked healthcare workers treat patients and to make the work of researchers finding a cure more effective. I believe AI and blockchain are providing the most impact by powering almost every other technology being used in that battle.

What is AI and Blockchain?

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is the ability of computer algorithms to learn how to solve a specific set of problems. This is done by using a given set of prior outcomes to find patterns in large sets of data. In that sense, it is not that different than Human Intelligence. The big advantage that AI holds over humans is that computers are relatively cheap. They also have the ability to work 24×7 and can be trained within 3-4 months to solve a new class of problems. That is in contrast with a medical doctor who must go through an average of 25 years of education and training.

Blockchain

Blockchain is a distributed database existing on multiple computers at the same time. It is constantly growing as new sets of recordings, or 'blocks', are added to it. Each block contains a timestamp and a link to the previous block, so they form a chain that can be trusted and verified.

Diagnostics with AI

The most commonly used way to deploy AI has been to assist with diagnosing COVID-19 patients and determining the severity of their disease. In the past, computer programs have already been used to scan X-ray reports and look for tuberculosis, pneumonia, and other pulmonary diseases. Many of these apps from countries such as China, USA, and Israel have been immediately redeployed. They, for example, are looking for signs of COVID-19 damage in the lungs. Specific differences in the virus made earlier trials prone to errors and frustrated doctors. Finally, we now have gone through the necessary tuning period. 

AI is capable of identifying signs of COVID-19 based on X-rays with 92% accuracy. It showed the most promise with a comprehensive approach. This included not only looking at images, but consuming other vital data such as oxygen levels, temperature, and pulse before making a final diagnosis.

Chatbots as Virtual Healthcare Assistants

Chatbots have already proven themselves as a very promising technology in areas such as eCommerce and customer service. COVID-19 quickly overwhelmed many company’s capabilities to respond to patients and help them with basic decisions. Basic decisions on whether to seek emergency help, self-isolate, or take any other steps. Many companies that already have chatbot technology redeployed it to provide information and recommend the next steps. This is based on natural language processing capabilities and information developed in collaboration with medical professionals.

Research and Finding the Cure

In past findings, the cure for a new virus would include a multi-step process. This involved creating structural models of the virus’s proteins and experimenting with various approaches to combat the virus. Now with the usage of artificial intelligence, technology can assist in creating those models and potential future mutations. British startup, Exscientia, has designed a new drug completely using AI technology and rapidly moved it into human trials. AI algorithms are also being used to help scientists sift through massive amounts of data. This data is generated by parallel efforts of other medical and research institutions and establish necessary connections.

One of the challenges that scientists are facing when referencing research of others is verifying its authenticity or accuracy of information. That is where blockchain is starting to provide tremendous help. Organizations that deploy blockchain to confirm validity of ongoing research findings by other authorities can easily be trusted with the results they claim to have achieved.

Donations

Many individuals and organizations want to donate to the cause of finding a cure and treating people as the world continues to struggle. How can they be sure that their funds will be used for the right purpose and not be wasted? Blockchain ledger capabilities allow for tracing of all financial transactions and complete transparency on how donated funds being spent. Several fundraising campaigns that used that technology achieved a higher level of interest and were free of potential scandals with fund misappropriation.

Powering Other Technologies

Below are a few examples where AI and blockchain are playing a central role in treating patients and finding a cure. They are also powering many other technologies that are being deployed.

  • Drones delivering medicine in cities of China using AI navigational capabilities at its core.
  • Robots cleaning patient rooms are being powered by AI algorithms.
  • Facial recognition and fever detection are based on AI Machine Learning.

There are many other technologies that making use of AI in the battle with pandemic. Technology on its own will not cure the pandemic, but it is an important tool at the disposal of those that will. The role of modern and emerging technology will continue to be increasingly important in the answers not only for the COVID-19 pandemic but also for businesses at large as they pivot their businesses to adapt to the new normal. Emerging technology presents valuable opportunities to connect with consumers in a new way and deliver experiences they expect.

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