It looks like artificial intelligence (AI) technology is already playing a critical role during public health emergencies like the global coronavirus pandemic. Researchers at BlueDot, a Toronto-based AI platform provider, identified the COVID-19 virus on December 30.
The discovery was made just hours after local officials in Wuhan, China reported the first cases in the city. It would take the Chinese government several weeks after that to make an official announcement.
“We didn’t know at that moment that this was going to become something of this magnitude,” said Kamran Khan, founder and CEO of BlueDot and a professor of medicine and public health at the University of Toronto.
Khan told CNBC’s Make It that he’s an “accidental entrepreneur” who never went to business school or had any coding experience. As an epidemiologist and physician treating patients in Toronto during the SARS outbreak of 2003, he was inspired to found BlueDot.
“Certainly none of us knew what SARS was until it literally showed up in our cities and hospitals,” said Khan. The outbreak would last six months and was responsible for the deaths of 774 people in 29 countries, including many healthcare workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the SARS outbreak cost an estimated $40 billion globally.
“What I learned during SARS is, let’s not get caught flatfooted, let’s anticipate rather than react,” said Khan. “If we rely on government agencies to report information about infectious disease activity, we may not always get that in the most timely way or as quickly as we would like.”
BlueDot’s solutions are designed to track, contextualize and anticipate infectious disease risks. The company’s SaaS platform uses AI and insights to provide near real-time infectious disease alerts, tailored to specific industries like healthcare, the government and businesses. BlueDot’s global early warning system combines more than 100 datasets with proprietary algorithms, which offer critical insights and education on the spread of infectious diseases.
One of the keys to BlueDot’s success is the use of big data, which is culled from hundreds of thousands of sources using natural language processing and machine learning. A group of physicians and programmers then review the AI findings and create reports based on the information.
BlueDot goes beyond detecting disease threats and strives to actually understand and predict how they might spread to different parts of the world. In the case of coronavirus, the company sent out an alert and also identified cities highly connected to Wuhan. They were able to do this based on metrics like global airline ticketing data. The company pinpointed Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, Phuket, Seoul and Singapore as having the highest volume of travelers from Wuhan. Of the cities BlueDot identified, 11 were among the first places to see the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
"Coronavirus is a huge wake-up call for us in a positive way because of how important AI technology is and how medicine should embrace AI technology so it can recognize viruses like [COVID-19]," said Sergey Young, founder of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund. The investment fund is dedicated to making longevity affordable and accessible. "It's also a negative wake-up call because we are still human beings with a lack of trust in AI, and human beings have a weakness in terms of how we respond to AI," added Young in a FOX Business interview.
TechZone360 Contributing Editor
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