Here & Now: Artificial Intelligence & COVID-19


Here & Now: Artificial Intelligence & COVID-19

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an advanced form of technology that can help computers filter through a large amount of data and isolate patterns. These patterns can be important information that can help researchers in a variety of ways. The application of AI can be used in many different industries. For the last few months, in particular, it has found many uses in the medical field. Most notably, AI has been helping reduce the spread of COVID, predict possible outbreaks and even fight misinformation online that can lead to fear in the general public.

Artificial Intelligence, the future we embraced has become a reality with the current pandemic

Although AI was becoming more mainstream over the last couple of years, it was still something that was not fully utilized by every industry.  Most people saw AI as some form of technology that may have applications in the future but not really important at this time. COVID changed all that.


The pandemic has made AI more of a necessity than a science fiction dream. There are a number of ways that the technology has helped in the effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus including:


  • Tracking outbreaks – COVID first came on the radar through a HealthMap website managed by the Boston Children’s Hospital. According to Science Magazine, it was this data-mining website that first started tracking the outbreak in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Now, those in the medical profession are working on ways to use AI to mine more data so that they can discover outbreaks and try and contain them. In addition, these efforts can help medical professionals prepare for COVID outbreaks in their community by predicting where ICU rooms and ventilators may be needed. With this sort of information, AI can help reduce the serious nature of the illness and save lives.
  • Diagnosing patients with COVID – Efforts are being made to use AI to help predict the likelihood a patient has coronavirus based on their reported symptoms. This technology can assist in areas with limited access to testing.A study was done on 2.5 million individuals who used the app even discovered that cough and fever were not the predominant signs of COVID. Rather, it was a loss of taste and smell that the majority of patients who tested positive had reported. Researchers noted that two-thirds of people who tested positive said one of their symptoms was a loss of taste and smell. This early diagnosis can help reduce the spread of the disease by encouraging those with symptoms to self-isolate quickly.
  • Developing treatment – AI is even being used to help researchers identify possible treatments for patients with COVID. Because developing a drug to help fight infection is a time-consuming process, using AI to filter through large amounts of data can help narrow down that time frame. The computer algorithm can help researchers identify medicines already on the market that may help patients fight COVID.



Distribution of “correct” information. Facebook uses Artificial Intelligence to combat COVID-19 misinformation. 

Tech companies have been using AI to help filter out misinformation on their platforms, particularly Facebook. With about 2.6 billion active users posting and scrolling through the social media platform, keeping on top of rumors and lies is a challenge. But it is one that the tech giant takes seriously.


Over the past little while they have updated their AI capabilities to try and catch COVID misinformation quicker and more accurately. One of the challenges has been detecting images that have just a few slight changes from the original. While it may not seem like a big deal, these small changes can help misinformation spread quickly on the platform.


Images courtesy of Facebook


Training their computers to detect these minor changes has been something that Facebook has been working on for years. The company says that it checks billions of images a day and uses a database to identify COVID misinformation. They then try to reduce the sharing of the image. Moreover, a warning label is applied to these images so users are aware that it contains false information.



Artificial Intelligence & Treatment

One of the most interesting ways that AI has been assisting in the battle against COVID is by identifying possible treatments for patients. One such medication that has been discovered is usually used for arthritis patients. It was discovered by an AI startup based in England back in January. Now it is undergoing clinical trials on COVID patients. In the medical world, the discovery of the drug to its trial has been done at lightning speed, which is one of the benefits of using AI in treatment research.


An advantage in finding medicines that are already in use means that there doesn’t need to be an expensive and time-consuming regulatory process. Instead, by using AI in the process, treatments could be ready for COVID patients quicker. That may lead to thousands of lives saved.


Researchers use AI to look for patterns in cell data that they can connect to parts of the human body that COVID manipulates. For example, in the arthritis medicine research, they were able to find a cluster of genes that regulates cellular machinery that the coronavirus uses to enter the cell.  The medicine that they identified can target those genes in an attempt to slow the virus.



Power of AI in a pandemic

When it comes to fighting COVID-19, putting the power of AI to work is one of the best tools that researchers have. The technology has been able to help identify and track outbreaks, diagnose patients and even pinpoint treatments. Although the battle is not yet over, researchers harnessing the power of AI gives us the upper hand over this viral foe.