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Is Artificial Intelligence Mature Enough to Combat COVID-19?

March 18, 2020 / Jessica Kent

Before the world was even conscious of the threat posed by COVID-19, artificial intelligence had detected the beginnings of the outbreak. On December 30, 2019, researchers from BlueDot, a company that uses AI to track and anticipate infectious diseases, spotted a report about a pneumonia of unknown aetiology in China. Nearly a week later, on January 5, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a request for more information from Chinese public health authorities. However, the issues surrounding AI in healthcare haven’t just disappeared in the wake of a global pandemic. Concerns about data quality, the absence of humans, and the overall accuracy of AI tools are perhaps even more valid now than they were before. How are organizations currently using AI to combat COVID-19, and is the technology mature enough to handle a widespread health crisis? On March 5, 2020, Google’s DeepMind published research discussing how they used deep learning to predict the structure of proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “We emphasize that these structure predictions have not been experimentally verified, but hope they may contribute to the scientific community’s interrogation of how the virus functions, and serve as a hypothesis generation platform for future experimental work in developing therapeutics,” DeepMind researchers said.