Originally published by Dr. Jane Thomason: Original Post on LinkedIn
The pandemic is the first real test of futuristic and disruptive technologies that have been in development for decades. This has mostly been seen in China, but is quickly spreading to the rest of the world, as humans look for weapons to fight the virus. First is the accuracy of information and making sure we can trust our sources. Artificial Intelligence is helping to identify coronavirus symptoms, find new treatments, and track the spread of the disease. Blockchain is securing medical records and tracking test kits, as well as tracking the spread. Robots and drones are making interactions with and treatment of sick patients easier. Surveillance tech — including facial recognition-enabled cameras and drones — is also helping find people who might be sick or who aren’t wearing masks. Robotics and drones are picking up for humans with dangerous tasks.
Crisis of Trust and Media
One thing that we have learned is that our first “social media pandemic” is very disconcerting. Knowing what is going on and who to trust are serious issues, as we are bombarded with messages on every conceivable channel. During a pandemic, maintaining the public’s confidence in government is essential. Harnessed correctly, technology could go a long way toward fixing this challenge.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with the recent outbreak came a wave of false theories on social media aiming to mislead and deceive people. In the UK, the NHS is working with tech giants including Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook on an effort to deploy accurate information on social media.
Hive, a group of “crypto-minded researchers, engineers, designers” and fans of the space that scores and ranks trustworthy social accounts has developed another algorithm to map the actual epidemiologists to follow on Twitter.
It becomes increasingly important to be able to identify and track at-risk people and people with immunity. Blockchain will enable accurate databases of local populations with identity, population level vaccine, history of disease, and medical intervention studies without any potential breach of privacy and improved health outcomes through better data exchange. For instance, Atlanta-based software company Acoer has crafted a dashboard that tracks infections, deaths and recoveries occurring across the world in real time, based on Blockchain, which prevents information from being manipulated outside of the public eye. Acoer provides health care and life sciences institutes, and now countries and the general public, with blockchain solutions to easily track the virus and visualize how it is spreading around the world using an app called HashLog, powered by Hedera Hashgraph. The HashLog dashboard allows researchers, scientists and journalists to easily understand and follow the spread of the virus, as well as its trends over time from a wide set of public data including data from the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, Clinical Trial Data and Twitter.
Another use of Blockchain involves insurance claims. An insurance provider in China used a blockchain-based settlement system to offer quick, one-time payments to victims of the coronavirus. Ant Financial has been able to process claims and make payouts to participants quicker, due to the decentralised, trust-free nature of blockchain technology,” an Ant Financial spokesman told the South China Morning Post.
AI is being used to study the outbreak’s spread and is powering the search for treatments. Public health data surveillance companies Metabiota and BlueDot were both used to track the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. BlueDot actually notified its clients of the coronavirus threat several days before both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued their public warnings. Cloudmedx takes it a step further by providing crowdsourced patient diagnoses to nearby hospitals so they can prepare.
The ability to be diagnosed online underscores the rise in telehealth. “The potential for COVID-19 to encourage deployment of digital transformation is considerable,” says Dr Charles Alessi, chief clinical officer of HIMSS, owner of MobiHealthNews. “In the UK, we are still at 1% in terms of using ‘digital first’ – consultations in primary care. This may well prove to be the event that transforms that.” In contrast, China first reorganised its medical response to the outbreak by moving half of all medical care online.
The epidemic has also inspired several drug companies to use AI-powered drug discovery platforms to search for possible treatments. That process can involve using AI to find entirely new molecules that might be capable of treating the pneumonia-like illness, or mining through databases of already-approved drugs (for other illnesses) that might also work against Covid-19.
On average, a patient with COVID-19 has more than 2,000 CT images during the entire hospitalization process. Manually reading and comparing image data from every patient requires great effort. AI technology can assist realizing quantitative analysis, speeding up CT image analytics, avoiding errors caused by fatigue, and adjusting treatment plans in time.
Big Data and Surveillance
The Washington Post reported that the government is in talks with the tech industry about getting access to aggregated and anonymous mobile phone data. Israel is in the early stages of a plan to use individual phone-tracking to warn users away from engaging with those affected with COVID-19. This raises the question of privacy and living in a surveillance state.
In addition, advanced facial recognition tech already exists. Panasonic, which is also selling its facial recognition system FacePro in the US, suggests that its systems can identify people wearing masks. Facial recognition companies can also integrate their tech with thermal imaging. This type of scanning is being used to sense whether people might have elevated temperatures, which might indicate whether they’ve been infected with the coronavirus and help verify their identity.
Robotics and Drones
Since the risk of human contact leads to spreading the virus, robots are being used to disinfect rooms, communicate with isolated people, take vital information, and deliver medications.
Chinese hospitals are now shipping in robots from the Danish company UVD Robots that can disinfect patient rooms, according to a statement. UVD Robots says that its roving robotic pods work by emitting ultraviolet light throughout an area, killing viruses and bacteria, including the coronavirus. (The robots are remotely controlled by a device operated by a health worker.)
Chinese officials have been deploying drones to patrol public places, spray disinfectant, conduct thermal imaging, track whether people are traveling outside without wearing face masks or violating other quarantine rules.
Italian additive manufacturing start-up Isinnova has reverse engineered and 3D printed a crucial valve for an overrun hospital in Chiari, a small town in Lombardy which is among the areas worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The valve is a key component of Venturi oxygen masks, which are connected to ventilators and used to help patients with respiratory diseases like coronavirus Covid-19 breathe.
Of the almost 3,000 people that have died of the coronavirus in Italy, at least 1,420 were in Lombardy, and hospitals in the area have shortages of beds and medical equipment.
The supplier of the Chiari hospital was unable to provide the crucial valve due to the unprecedented demand, leading a local journalist to reach out to the community of 3D printing companies in the area.
German carmaker Volkswagen said it was joining other manufacturers around the world to explore using 3D printing to make hospital ventilators to combat the coronavirus. Governments are enlisting automakers including Ford, General Motors, Ferrari and Nissan to ramp up production of ventilators and other equipment to treat the fast-spreading disease. Volkswagen said it had assembled a task force, was testing materials and checking supply chains to see how it can use 3D printing to help manufacture hospital ventilators and other life-saving equipment.
Poonyah Care comprises a Poonyah is AI with a wearable and an app and is already working with St George’s University of London to develop clinical trials into the use of its device for remote monitoring of the novel coronavirus in cases of self-isolating patients. The hope is that we can rapidly begin deployment of our product to help prevent the further spread of the disease in the UK.
Business and Academic Institutions Chipping in
The Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation jointly established the Global MediXchange to help combat the global outbreak of the coronavirus . This facilitates online communication and collaboration across borders, as well as providing frontline medical teams around the world with secure communication channels to share practical experience. This center offers overseas Chinese citizens affected by the virus, and supports medical scientific research institutions with AI, big data, and cloud computing capabilities.
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development is highlighting companies who are taking extra-ordinary business actions in relation to COVID-19. They highlight examples of enterprises putting aside the usual rules of business in these exceptional circumstances and instead taking exceptional steps to address the impact from the coronavirus.
These and many many efforts underway around the globe are showing how adversity spurs innovation, and that technology is a vital adjunct to both winning the Covid Battle as well as helping us cope with life at home. We applaud the many individuals and companies who are taking actions both locally and globally to help overcome this pandemic.