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How Technology Is Combating the Coronavirus Pandemic

Everywhere the world is rallying around the capabilities of technology to combat the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 is being countered with data science, analytics, AI, and other technologies.

7 months ago

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One of the biggest reasons the coronavirus has been so destructive is its definition as a novel virus. According to epidemiologist Larry Brilliant in an article with WIRED, the virus itself is "new," which means "there is no human being in the world that has immunity as a result of having had it before. That means it's capable of infecting 7.8 billion." Technology is doing its part to make sure the extreme numbers in the models are dramatically reduced.

We've got to rely on numbers to help us lower the curve now more than ever since the idea of infection of that magnitude is unthinkable. But there's also something else to consider: With a virus that's spreading as rapidly as COVID-19, real-time data is more critical than ever, as traditional forecasting models rely on years of data — and that's the one thing that no one has.

Roni Rosenfeld, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, has been steadily working on making epidemiological forecasting with machine learning as "universally accepted and useful as weather forecasting." So when the CDC called wanting his hand in predicting the COVID-19 spread, he went straight for AI.

"We have another methodology for forecasting, called the 'wisdom of crowds,'" said Rosenfeld in an interview with Vox. "That's when you gather at least several dozen people and ask them each individually to make a subjective assessment of what the rest of the flu season will look like. What we've learned from experience is that any one of them on their own is not very accurate, but their aggregate tends to be quite accurate."

In addition to crowdsourcing (which has expanded to include everyone, even you, if you're interested), Rosenfeld's model is also taking into account several other data points. Those points include: frequency of the illness mentioned on social media, Google queries for related terms, access to CDC pages and relevant Wikipedia pages, retail purchasing patterns for things like anti-fever medications and thermometers, and health records while removing items that may seem high-volume for social anxiety versus actual illness. This modeling has already been used on predicting how the seasonal flu affects populations, and it's worked. Now, he's saying that we'll see a peak in April or May unless social distancing and shelter-in-place measures are stepped up to help mitigate the more severe timelines.

At the same time, supercomputers are part of the mix — tackling the virus's very deadly ability to spread exponentially with the power of computing at one billion times the speed of a standard laptop. IBM's Summit is that supercomputer, and it's been used to identify traits that lead to opioid addiction, identify patterns that lead to Alzheimer's, and more, in the past. Now, it's being trained on determining how the virus proteins react to certain compounds. So far, it's ranked 77 potential compounds that could potentially help fight the virus, and the longer it runs, the closer we get to reducing the time and cost of clinical trials that arrive at a treatment.  

More Technology Combating the Virus Already

As a strained supply chain struggles to meet the exponential needs of frontline doctors, nurses, and medical staff, 3D printers have become literal life savers. Manufacturers are teaming up to produce vital 3D-printed medical equipment such as nasal swabs, face shields, ventilator parts, and more. One Ohio factory, which typically produces 3D printers, is utilizing 250 of its printers “to crank out up to 100,000 nasal swabs for Covid-19 tests every day.” Even on a local level, this Virginia student is helping combat the virus at home with a 3D printer by creating masks for his at-risk uncle and donating others to his community.

Here are a few other examples of how businesses are leveraging the power of tech during this critical time:

Everywhere the world has rallied behind the capabilities of where technology can lend a hand in combating this novel disease, and there are plenty more places where COVID-19 is being countered with data science, analytics, AI, and other technologies.

Photo by Dennis Kummer on Unsplash

Edwin Marcial

Published 7 months ago

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