Since the first case of Coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, China, the virus has spread like bushfire to at least 100 other countries. The outbreak has quickly become a global disaster, leaving at least 21, 100 people dead, 468, 644 confirmed cases, and millions vulnerable. The virus has led to the collapse of supply lines, closure of factories, and a lockdown in many cities around the world. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a pandemic. Clearly, the Coronavirus is an unanticipated calamity of epic proportions that has derailed economies and disrupted how we live our daily lives. China, from where the new virus originated, is one of the countries that have been worst hit. So far, China is known to have more than 3280 fatal cases and 81, 285 confirmed cases owning to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the bid to beat the novel virus, China has fully utilized the resources at its disposal and deployed the latest technology to mitigate the spread of the disease to a significant extent. During the time of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2004, the world took more than a year to identify the respiratory virus genome, whereas thanks to AI, big data, and technology, the Covid-19 virus genome was identified in a month’s time. Currently, China appears to have contained the spread of the Coronavirus.
The following are some of the ways artificial intelligence, big data, and technology have helped China to fight COVID-19.
AI to diagnose Covid-19
Artificial intelligence (AI) has played a huge role in helping to diagnose and fight Covid-19 in China. With the help of predictive models and data analytics, healthcare professionals in China have been able to identify the genome of the virus. Baidu—a tech giant, has made its Lineatrfold algorithm available to medical professionals fighting the virus, helping them to identify the genome of Covid-19. Unlike HIV, Ebola, and Influenza, Coronavirus has a single strand RNA, which means the virus can mutate rapidly. The Chinese tech giant has also designed tools that help medical professionals to screen large populations, including an AI-powered infrared system that can detect a change in a person’s body temperature. If a person’s body temperature is 37.3 degrees or higher, the system will trigger an alarm, and the person will be subjected to secondary checks by the station personnel. According to MIT Technological Review, Baidu has installed this thermal scanner in Qinghe Railway Station in Beijing. The system can examine up to 200 passengers in one minute without disrupting passenger flow. It’s much faster than the thermal scanners at airports. The installation of thermal scanners is just one of the ways in which China is using AI and big data to fight Covid-19.
Another Chinese medical artificial intelligence company—Infervision launched an AI solution that helps medical professionals to diagnose the disease. This AI solution improves CT diagnosis speed; hence it has helped to reduce the workload created by the virus in imaging departments. Alibaba also developed an artificial intelligence solution that has been proven to be 96% accurate in diagnosing the virus in seconds. These AI solutions seem to have greatly helped to contain the virus since China has not reported new infections for the first time since the outbreak.
China has deployed robots to sterilize high-risk areas, deliver food and medical supplies, and perform many other tasks aimed at containing Covid-19. Robots have been particularly helpful in reducing the amount of human-to-human contact. From dispensing hand sanitizers and spraying disinfectants to vending essential products, robots have helped to minimize human-to-human contact hence preventing the spread of Coronavirus. Hospitals in China are using robots for cleaning, preparing meals, performing diagnosis, and conducting thermal imaging. Pudu Technology—a Chinese robot company deployed its robots to help more than 40 hospitals to manage Coronavirus. Another Shenzhen-based company—Multicopter has deployed its robots to transport medical samples and supplies. The use of robotics in China during the outbreak has helped to prevent the virus from spreading as well as assisting medical professionals to combat the virus
Big data and facial recognition
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), big data has played an important role in China’s response to Covid-19. The Chinese government has used big data analytics and cellphone tracking to monitor Coronavirus efficiently. The government has been able to access public information for purposes of creating dashboards that have played a significant role in containing Covid-19. In major cities such as Shanghai, workers report their travel history, temperature, and other important information, which is then sent to authorities fighting the pandemic. Infrared temperature detection solutions and face recognition systems have been installed in major Chinese cities to help with identifying potentially infected persons. Companies like Hanwang Technology and SenseTime have developed special technologies that can accurately recognize people even if they are masked. This has been helpful particularly in ensuring quarantine compliance. Smartphone apps have been used to obtain critical information regarding people’s travel history, medical history, and whether or not they’ve been in contact with an infected person. China Mobile –a Chinese telecom company, has been instrumental in the collection of information on infected persons and forwarding it to state media agencies. In the early days of the outbreak, state media agencies would post this information in public forums, allowing people to find out if they had come to close contact with infected persons. Facial recognition systems that have been installed in Chinese cities have helped to track those who have been exposed to the virus, and effectively prevent the spreading of the deadly virus.
China has set up an expansive and sophisticated surveillance system that requires people to use their IDs to buy certain products and obtain essential services. This system, together with mobile apps, has enabled the Chinese government to track people’s movements. These apps have helped users to find out if they have come in contact with infected persons. The Chinese government has also developed a monitoring system called Health Code that uses big data to evaluate people’s travel history and their potential to infected persons.
China is using drones in some of the severely affected areas to transport medical supplies and quarantine material with minimal risk. The use of drones helps to save time, enhances the speed of delivery, and prevents the risk of patient samples being contaminated. Terra Drone—a leading provider of drone services is using aerial vehicles to transport medical samples between Xinchang County’s disease control center and the People’s Hospital. The drones have QR code placards that can be scanned to register health information. This has significantly helped to identify people with pre-existing conditions and minimizing their exposure to Covid-19. Also, China is using drones to patrol public spaces and broadcast information and warnings to the citizens. This has played a huge role in ensuring compliance with quarantine mandates. Agricultural drones have been used to spray disinfectants in severely affected areas.
China has successfully used autonomous vehicles to minimize human-to-human contact and supplement the efforts of medical personnel. Apollo—Baidu’s autonomous vehicle platform has joined hands with Neolix—a self-driving startup to deliver medical supplies and food to a big hospital in Beijing. Apollo has also made its micro-car kits and autonomous driving services available to companies fighting Covid-19. Another Chinese self-driving company –Idriverplus has availed its flagship vehicles to disinfect hospitals.
The Chinese government, in collaboration with tech giants — Alibaba and Tencent have developed a color-coded health rating system to track huge populations daily. The smartphone app assigns three colors to people based on their travel and medical history. The color code helps medical professionals to determine whether or not a person should be quarantined. Citizens are required to log into the app and fill out an online report with their ID number, their travel history, and any possible symptoms. After providing the required information, they are issued with either a green color, yellow, or red. The app also assigns a QR code that determines how much contact residents are allowed with the general public. Those issued with a red code are required to remain in quarantine for 14 days, while those with yellow codes are required to stay indoors for seven days. Residents with green codes are allowed in public spaces. Tencent Holdings’ messaging app WeChat also introduced a QR Code tracking feature that helps a large number of people to get basic diagnosis. Chatbots have also been essential communication tools in the travel and communication industries by helping to keep travelers updated on the latest travel disruptions.
Several tech giants, including Huawei, DiDi, and Tencent, are utilizing supercomputers and cloud computing resources to fast-track the development of a cure or vaccine for Covid-19.
Generally, China has managed to contain Coronavirus, thanks to artificial intelligence and big data science. As the world continues to fight with the deadly outbreak, technologies like AI and big data are vital in turning the tide.