Artificial intelligence could eradicate pandemics

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Artificial intelligence could eradicate pandemics

Thanks to the widespread use of artificial intelligence, we will probably no longer face the risk of a pandemic.

Today, mankind is able to identify the spread of a virus as soon as it is triggered. At the end of 2019, the novel coronavirus was detected by an artificial intelligence developed by Bluedot, which identified the outbreak as well as the spread of the virus. This was long before public authorities and long before the World Health Organization.

This revolution in prediction sets the world on the path to a new destiny. The end of pandemics, thanks to AI.

In the worst-case scenario, future generations will only experience epidemics. In other words, a regional spread of a potential new virus. But this type of scenario, which is highly probable, will only be possible if countries fully embrace the era of prediction in the management of public policies.

Several Asian states, including China, Taiwan and Singapore, have grasped the importance of AI and are precisely in the process of demonstrating that their state management is one step ahead of our Western societies. What is probably the most extraordinary in this story is their ability to have avoided total containment, unlike the European states.

In fact, total containment is an indicator of an eroded technological and organisational predisposition. Indeed, the success of the containment of the coronavirus by these Asian countries was based on a strategy that mainly capitalizes on artificial intelligence, coupled with coordination of the private and public sectors.

This is not insignificant. Above all, we know that China’s President intends to transform geopolitical dynamics by positioning China as a world leader in AI. This technology is truly the variable that will make a state a superpower.

Today, in Belgium as in France, we are experiencing a shortage of masks and test kits. Two shortages that two AI strategies could efficiently address.

Firstly, the public authorities of Singapore, through its Minister of Health, have deployed an artificial intelligence called “Beampro”. This AI is capable of interacting and managing patients in multiple languages.

During times of mask shortage, this robot can drastically reduce interpersonal infection. It is an effective measure to protect healthcare personnel who are struggling to alleviate the damage caused by the virus.

It should be remembered that in Europe, dozens of doctors and nurses have died precisely because they were exposed to the virus, due to a lack of masks and equipment using artificial intelligence.

Artifical Intelligence provides unparalleled support

AI, such as Beampro, is providing unparalleled support to the medical profession in many ways. First, it can help mitigate the risk of infection and thus the increase in confirmed cases. This puts downward pressure on the risk of hospital overcrowding. Second, AI technology can increase the organisational efficiency of medical staff by optimising the time available, and reducing the interaction time of nurses with patients.

Secondly, Alibaba has developed an AI, in more than 100 Chinese hospitals, capable of detecting the coronavirus in less than 30 seconds, with a success rate approaching 97%. This percentage is steadily increasing as the AI collects patient data.

The novel equipment has resulted in early detection and a spectacular increase in testing capacity, leading to a better assessment of the risk of the spread of the virus and ultimately to optimal patient management. This AI has even contributed to increase the volume of time available to nurses by more than 60%.

It is truly a weapon that our hospitals must acquire to overcome the peak of the next epidemics. And it is up to public authorities to create the conditions to raise the necessary funds. Investment in AI must be made.

In the future, states’ strategies against pandemics will make use of AI more than ever.

This macro-technology represents an infinite hope that will avoid the catastrophic number of deaths. In reality, our structures have not significantly evolved on the anti-epidemic strategy, which is very similar to medieval times, which consists of the total containment of the population.

It is undeniably effective against the saturation of the hospital environment, but does not fundamentally respond to the pandemic. Containment just gives us an indication of the underfunding of hospitals. But under no circumstances does it exempt us from a second epidemic wave. It should be remembered that neither China, Taiwan nor Singapore have decreed total containment.

Out of a population of 7.4 million, Hong Kong has a death toll of 4. Out of a population of 5.64 million people, Singapore has a death toll of 14. Out of a population of 11 million, Belgium has a sad record of 7,331 deaths. The difference in this pandemic management is very striking.

These Asian countries were the first to be exposed to the coronavirus, without having had the time to prepare for it, unlike Europe. This Asian demonstration, combining the use of artificial intelligence with a harmonious coordination between public and private sectors, should inspire us.

It would therefore be opportune, in all humility, now and without delay, to strengthen our vision for the future, by integrating and generalising artificial intelligence in the EU. In particular, in the health sector. This is the hope that we must promise to future generations, who must have sufficient capacity to combat future epidemics. Both in detection and in prediction.

That said, there is still hope. In Belgium, thanks to AI, Robovision allows the detection of coronavirus lung damage or the identification of abnormalities even before symptoms appear.

In addition to faster detection of Covid-19 cases, Robovision’s AI is a godsend for public authorities in the fight against the pandemic.

In France, Microsoft is trying to create an AI to facilitate the detection of infected patients. This initiative will help public authorities to lift restrictions related to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Badr Boussabat
Economist, Political Scientist, speaker and author of  “L’intelligence artificielle: notre meilleur espoir” 

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