The robot studies a coronavirus with gauze mask medical
Artificial Intelligence Emerging Technology Medicine

AI & Robots Winning the Fight Against COVID-19

on
April 13, 2020
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Reading Time: 4 minutes


Introduction

When so many human lives are at stake like they are right now, privacy, ethics, and other concerns that have limited AI mechanisms become less relevant. In this unprecedented time, nothing is more important than keeping as many patients alive as possible. The outbreak of COVID-19 has wreaked its havoc across the world. Markets are crashing, schools and businesses are closed, people are sick and dying, and most of us are forced to remain housebound. Sadly, this may just the beginning.

This is not the first time the world has experienced a dangerous pandemic, but one silver lining to be grateful for is artificial intelligence – a tool with amazing capabilities, it might just have the power to speed our recovery from this crisis.

A Short History Lesson

The first recorded case of a major disease outbreak can be traced back to 3000 BC China. Archeological findings show that about 5000 years ago, an epidemic probably wiped out an entire village. 97 bodies of the diseased were found stuffed inside a 14- by 15-foot house that was later burned down. The epidemic did not spare any age group: the skeletons of juveniles, young adults, and middle-aged people were uncovered. Conjecture based on information from the findings hypothesizes that the disease came on so suddenly that there was not even time for a proper burial.

Before COVID-19, the most recent pandemic that shook the world was the Spanish Flu or the 1918 flu pandemic. Spanning between January 1918 to December 1920, it was so deadly that the CDC nicknamed it The Mother of All Pandemics. It infected roughly a quarter of Earth’s population (about 500 million) and killed between 17 million to 50 million people. Some evidence suggests that the death toll may actually have been upwards of 100 million, which makes it the deadliest epidemic in human history. Back in 1918, the world, of course, had no tech tools that could assist in the search for a cure or speed up the recovery process. Thus, more people were at risk.

Now: COVID-19

Recent years have shown us how AI and machine learning might greatly help the human race in minimizing damages in times of need. With the outbreak of COVID-19, this is perhaps the best time to put these machines to the test and to find out exactly what they are capable of achieving.

As of April 5, 2020, the worldwide death toll of the coronavirus disease was 67,910 and over 1.2 million people were affected in more than 100 countries. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus a pandemic, travel has been disrupted worldwide and a high level of quarantine is in place.

The need to limit the spread of the virus has set in motion a total shutdown of major activities in affected regions. Now, AI-based robots have come into play.

How AI Is Winning the Fight Against Coronavirus

AI-based tools and machines can provide human-based services with little to no supervision, minimizing interactions and, consequently, limiting the proliferation of COVID-19. Their roles are summarized below:

a. Delivery services

AI-bots can deliver goods and groceries. They make it possible for people to gain access to their daily necessities without leaving the comfort (and safety) of their homes.

b. Disinfectant spraying

Instead of utilizing heavy vehicles manned by humans, in parts of China and throughout Johannesburg, South Africa, AI robots are disinfecting public areas. Battery-powered, they reduce the cost of energy consumption while their sleek design makes them maneuverable in difficult terrains.

c. Hand sanitizing and mask distribution

Robots that dispense hand sanitizer and face masks have been installed in strategic places to help contain the spread of the virus.

d. The rise of robot chefs

Did you know robot chefs like Julia can cook different delicacies for you? Using her app, all you need to do is choose your recipe, insert ingredients in their specified containers, and tap the cook button. Very user-friendly, you do not need to have any culinary expertise whatsoever. If you can use a simple app, Julia will make sure you are good to go.

e. Protecting our healthcare workers while making their jobs easier

While healthcare workers are working long hours and putting their lives on the line to keep us safe, robots like Tommy the robotic nurse help reduce burnout and offer increased protection. They can check temperatures, monitor vital signs, and even disinfect people, thereby keeping the risk of exposure of the virus to a minimum.

f. Telemedicine adoption

Recent weeks have seen a huge spike in the adoption of telemedicine. Patients and doctors are interacting via video calls facilitated by robots, some of which can monitor vital signs without physical contact.

Conclusion

Every major disease outbreak ushers in change and gives rise to new levels of research and technology. Artificial intelligence and robots are leaving their mark as they continue to make themselves indispensable tools. When this pandemic is finally in our rearview mirror, lawmakers will likely look past their concerns about the possible imperfections of AI-based technology. They should support and encourage wider utilization, in all aspects of life.

Please feel free to comment or share. Contact us with any questions — we would love to hear from you. Most importantly, stay healthy and safe!

If you’d like to see more posts like this or get in touch with me personally, you can add me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or post comments below. You can also check out my posts on Medium.

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SOHAIL MERCHANT
Miami, FL

Medical Doctor (M.D.); Research Fellow at Lumen Foundation Artificial Intelligence Division

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