Data science and its algorithms, an indispensable tool in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic? Specializing in occupational medicine and occupational diseases, Moroccan Rajae Ghanimi provides an overview of artificial intelligence innovations developed around the world to combat coronavirus.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in late December 2019, China has largely managed its war against Covid-19 by building on its strong technology sector, particularly artificial intelligence, data science and algorithms, which give computers learning skills and enable, among other things, to automate decision-making.
Today, technology leaders around the world have accelerated their research and development activities to develop new applications to combat the pandemic in all its dimensions. A round-up of these innovations:
Detection and monitoring of disease progression
Able to browse news bulletins on new diseases in 65 languages, the algorithm developed by Canada’s BlueDot to prevent customers from travelling to high-risk areas warned international health authorities of the threat of Covid-19 several days before public alerts were issued.
In their pandemic strategy, most African countries rely on data collection and analysis. In Nigeria, for example, the InStrat Global Health Solutions app provides information about the virus to more than 20,000 health workers, allowing them to identify and isolate potentially affected patients.
In DR Congo, the Mbombo Initiative, created in 2017 to fight malaria, could serve as a model: the organization has developed an algorithm that transforms data from hospitals and practitioners into predictions on the number of cases identified, allowing accurate reporting and preventing possible epidemics.
AliHealth, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of Chinese giant Alibaba, has created an algorithm capable of detecting Covid-19 from scanner images, with a 96% accuracy rate, in just 20 seconds.
The American company Infervision has developed a system to help health workers detect the coronavirus and monitor its evolution.
SMART HELMET CAN DETECT FEVERISH PEOPLE UP TO 5 METRES AWAY
Based on thermal imaging, portable thermal cameras, especially when they can be used on the wrist, can take measurements from a distance of up to 3 metres. Used in many countries, including Africa, they assist in diagnosis and provide “preliminary screening” of potentially infected individuals, but are not a formal means of detecting the disease.
Finally, widely used by the Chinese authorities, smart helmets, equipped with an infrared camera and facial recognition technology, can detect feverish people up to 5 meters away, with the ability to scan 100 people in 2 minutes.
Support for robots and drones
Some essential tasks that have become dangerous for humans have been delegated to robots, which are widely mobilized in Asia. Insensitive to the virus, able to move autonomously and perform acts to help or monitor patients, these robotic assistants are deployed to ensure the delivery of food and medicines, perform surveys of biological constants (temperature, etc.), perform cleaning or sterilization work.
This is the case of UVD robots from the Danish company Blue Ocean Robotics, which use ultraviolet rays to kill bacteria and viruses.
In Tunisia, Enova Robotics, based in the SoftTech technopolis of Sousse, has developed the PGuard robot (for Pearl Guard, “pearl of the guardians”), which has been circulating since the end of March in Greater Tunis for a pilot phase. Equipped with a system combining microphone speakers and camera, all remotely piloted, it can broadcast safety instructions, check the validity of exit authorizations and thus ensure compliance with containment.
Drones are also used to patrol public spaces, to disinfect streets, but also to transport samples or deliver medical treatments and equipment. This is the case for example the drones of the American company ZipLine: regularly used in Rwanda since 2016 to supply the 25 hospitals of the country, they are also used in Ghana since 2019.
Many laboratories and companies, such as Israeli start-up SonoviaTech, are working to design effective and reusable protective equipment and masks made from anti-pathogen and antiviral fabrics.
Classification of people
The Chinese government has partnered with technology giants Alibaba and Tencent to develop a scoring system that tracks millions of people on a daily basis.
A smartphone app has been deployed for the first time in Hangzhou, to which all citizens are obliged to connect. It assigns them a color (green, yellow or red) based on their travel and medical history. Only people who have received a green colour code are allowed in the public spheres.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS TECHNOLOGICAL WAVE WILL HAVE TO BE MONITORED WITHOUT DELAY.
For the first time, a health crisis is mobilizing clinicians, academics, industrial laboratories, technology start-ups and government agencies from around the world, working in synergy to find solutions that can stop the spread of the virus and treat patients.
But if this technological wave has at first sight a public interest and public health purpose, its consequences will have to be clarified and framed without delay so that the health crisis does not turn into an ethical crisis.
They must be anticipated and delineated, particularly with regard to applications of facial recognition and classification of individuals, knowing that the consent of each person remains the only way to guarantee his fundamental rights.