• Race to a Cure Authors

AI: One of the most significant technology trends sparked by COVID-19

What is AI?

As defined by Professor John McCarthy, a computer scientist at Stanford University, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the science of making intelligent machines, specifically intelligent computer programs. AI systems are developed by humans in order to analyze the data given, propose intelligent solutions, and predict future trends.

How is AI being applied to the ongoing pandemic?

In correlation to the pandemic, AI is mainly being applied to three fields:

  1. The research and development of drugs and vaccines

  2. The management of services

  3. The analysis of data to support public policy decisions aimed at managing the crisis

Thermal imaging combined with artificial intelligence software can potentially spot infected individuals before they can spread COVID-19. (Getty Images)

3 Remarkable Developments from Countries Over the World:

  1. China. AI-powered drones and robots are used to detect population movement and social gatherings. These devices are also helping them track and warn individuals with fevers or those who are not wearing masks.

  2. Israel. AI-driven contact tracing algorithms are used to send out personalized text messages based on trends of any individuals encountering the virus close to the subject.

  3. U.S. An AI powered chat-box was introduced to Seattle’s Providence at St. Joseph Health Centre. This chat-box was able to triage more than 40, 000 patients within the first week itself.

Engineers are working on facial recognition applications that can identify people even with their masks on. (Quartz)

Furthermore, scientists from DeepMind, an AI company acquired by Google in 2014, are working to predict the protein structures of the novel coronavirus.

Physician researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston are working towards programming robots to obtain signs and deliver medicine in COVID-19 surge clinics. This will protect healthcare staff from potentially dangerous human contact.

Setbacks of AI

Experiences from the Author, Palak Agarwal

Last week, I had the privilege of attending Udacity’s “AI for Healthcare in the Time of COVID-19” virtual conference. Not only did this conference inspire me to dive into this topic further, but it also familiarized me with some of the many setbacks of AI from industry experts all over the world.

As emphasized by Girish Srinivasan and Matt Lungren, we are short of data.

This relates to what I have learned in my Machine Learning course. We need an ample amount of training samples in order to develop a hypothesis for the computer to process when it is provided with new data.

Along with this, the variables as well as their values must be defined clearly under the various circumstances that may present themselves upon the occurrence of an event. Lungren mentioned researchers at Stanford working towards developing a large dataset for the global community to engage on.

AI has a long way to go before it can be completely acceptable in society. Advancements in technology are interesting, however, it is important to cater to the audience’s needs and respect ethical guidelines.

For example, the process of obtaining data must respect the citizens’ privacy and should not go beyond the consent of the subject.

With over four million cases of this virus, we are also extremely late in response. Perhaps we could use the excuse that this is our first pandemic where technology is actually available to us; however, we could always use South Korea as a role model. It prepared many of its institutions (i.e hospitals) in anticipation of a third possible pandemic.

South Korea has garnered wide praise for its initial responsible response towards COVID-19. (The Associated Press)

Once we are able to overcome these obstacles and strategically establish policies as well as our goals for AI development, we can use AI to minimize the effects of COVID.

Dr. Carol Clayton highlighted the spike in substance abuse as well as mental illnesses during this period.

How can we use existing data to develop safe platforms that ensure the wellbeing of our citizens? Can we develop simple hand-held devices for our community to access resources? Is it possible to develop an application that warns individuals of them catching a disease based on their lifestyle? These are all questions for you to think about.

Your Part in the Future

The more data, the more powerful AI can be. Initiatives such as Singapore’s TraceTogether app only have potential if a large percentage of its population makes the effort to download and share the app.

The TraceTogether app, launched by the Singaporean government, is one of many initiatives worldwide aiming to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Reuters)

So how can you help out with AI advancements? If there are any credible organizations or institutions near you that are gathering data for research purposes, you can fill out their surveys. If you can invest in or develop a computer system that solves one of the concerns related to COVID-19, go for it!

AI can be as simple or as complicated as we wish to make it. However, all AI initiatives and businesses adopt both creativity as well as curiosity in their products or services. After all, the main purpose of AI is to enhance agility while eliminating time-consuming tasks. COVID is just a test to our faith in technology.

Resources and References:

McCarthy, J. (n.d.). What is AI? / Basic Questions. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from


BBVA Communications. (2020, May 5). How Artificial Intelligence can help fight COVID-19.

Retrieved May 19, 2020, from https://www.bbva.com/en/how-artificial-intelligence-can-


Greenman, S. (2020, April 21). How governments can build trust in AI while fighting COVID-19.

Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/governments-


Wright, D. (2020, May 12). ServiceNow BrandVoice: AI Becomes An Ally In The Fight Against

COVID-19. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/servicenow/


Featured image courtesy of Stanford University.

Article Contributors: Palak Agarwal, Rahma Osman, Olivia Ye, Sara Gehlaut