How AI is changing the Landscape of Epidemiology

Artificial Intelligence was first established in 1956 as a field and it has come a long way since then. Almost 60 years ago, scholars at Dartmouth College wanted to find out if a machine can solve problems like intelligent human beings. And today AI surpasses that stage of research and development and now has a say in our day-to-day lives. It is mainly a field of computer science that creates impressive machines powered by human intelligence. Today, AI is not only answering and solving the problems but it is also doing the predictions based on internet algorithms. Many professions like energy, environment, transportation, education, population, and healthcare are taking leaps and bounds because of Artificial Intelligence. In healthcare, so far it’s proven that AI-based systems are refining the accuracy and proficiency of diagnosis and treatment across various specializations.


AI is poised to play a precise but copious role in medicine and healthcare, mainly because of advances in learning algorithms, computing power, and the convenience and accessibility of large datasets, also known as big data, which is sourced from medical records and modern, wearable health monitors. According to The Growth Pipeline Company, Frost & Sullivan’s January 2016’s press release, the health care market for AI is increasing at a rate of 40% and is expected to reach $6.6 billion by 2021. However, the availability of healthcare data for AI is much more powered than the AI in medicine, which is still in its early stages.

intelligent use of data

It is interesting to note that since AI is a simulator of a human brain, its study is quite similar to the study of the interconnected network of neurons supported by weighted communication channels. AI makes algorithms of experiences and adjusts inputs in order to carry out human-like tasks in an intelligent manner. It continues to refer to the brain and its functions and considers it as an inspirational source. AI through Machine Learning attempts to “imitate the neural structure of the nervous system by creating artificial neural networks (ANNs) which are networks of units called artificial neurons organized into layers”, as per Dave Pearson, the Editor of Radiology Business Journal.

AI has a critical focus on disease and human suffering and that particularly has been proven in the last 4 months, when World Health Organization (WHO) declared a unique Coronavirus a pandemic that has affected millions of people around the globe. Six months ago, it was first discovered in a Chinese province, Wuhan but it was fast spread to at least 100 countries around the globe in less than two-months. To track and fight the virus, technology, AI and data science have been used extensively for an accelerated response.

One of the very interesting trivia regarding this novel coronavirus is that it was not any human being who raised an alarm regarding the Covid-19 outbreak, instead it was a computer. The credit to buzz this alarm goes to Boston Children’s Hospital’s website, HealthMap which uses AI to scan news reports, social media, internet search queries, and other search streams. This early but timely alarm highlights the potential of AI or machine learning to keep a watch for contagion.

navigating through the pandemic

AI worked in countless disciplines but has shown significant progress in 4 areas that help navigate through this pandemic, which is not only life-threatening but has redefined the lifestyle. It tossed the normalcy upside down and now when everybody is busy in finding the new normal, AI is quite literally making progress towards finding the method to this madness.

1. Identify. Track. Forecast.

Since the internet is heavily flooded with news and data, AI takes a deep dive into this pool of information and then identifies the trends and calculates the risk of an outbreak in countries, cities, and communities. With the help of AI, we can very early learn to detect an outbreak. A Canadian startup, BlueDot was the first to notify about the threat of an outbreak and that happened days before the World Health Organization (WHO) or Center for Disease Control & Prevention issued the public statements and warnings.

2. Early & Efficient Diagnosis

Coronavirus outbreak put immense pressure on healthcare services and providers putting them on the front-line of the pandemic. The healthcare workers were not only taxed with work but were also in a vulnerable position because of the likelihood of cross-contamination. To fight this battle effectively and win, an Artificial Intelligence company, Infervision launched a coronavirus AI solution. By creating the deep-learning medical imaging platform, it immediately screens out suspected patients infected by the Coronavirus for further diagnosis and treatment. This technology improved the CT diagnosis speed and patients do not have to wait for hours for the scan. It certainly reduces the time and possibilities of cross-contamination for patients and healthcare workers alike.

3. Assistance in Drug Development

There is an unimaginable amount of time required to find a vaccine for the coronavirus disease, whereas, the deadliest outbreak is claiming lives around the globe. To combat the outbreak and to help the infected patients to recover, the most important step was to find a drug for this complex virus that can help heal the patients with a timely diagnosis. Google’s DeepMind division started working on understanding the complex protein structures that may make up the virus by going through the computing powers and AI algorithms. The findings were immediately published to help everyone develop treatments. The Benevolent Platform responded to this health crisis by using their AI platform to identify an existing drug or the combination of existing drugs to treat the novel coronavirus. The AI through its machine learning aspect and predictive capabilities studied the chemical formula of existing drugs, and match it to the symptoms shown, in order to cure. So far scientists are working on the treatment drug and vaccine for Covid-19 so till then, this is the helpful step we have taken through AI and have successfully saved millions of lives.

4. Identify. Monitor. Access the Risk

Although China’s surveillance system is often criticized around the globe, however, during this pandemic, its sophistication has been used in identifying and tracking. SenseTime used AI for facial recognition and fever detection software to identify most likably coronavirus affected patients by identifying people having a fever. A monitoring system was also developed by China by the name of Health Code that uses data to identify and access the risk based on an individual’s travel history, the amount of time they have spent in virus hotspots, potential exposure to the virus or to the people carrying the virus. Moreover, how soon an individual can be allowed to be in public or for how long one needs to be quarantined is determined by assigning a color code to its citizens.

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO on March 11, the internet got flooded with data which was and still is, further utilized for prediction, diagnosis, identification, cure, and policy-making – simply by churning this data into computation and compartmentalization with the use AI. Today, we have been able to get quick answers to urgent situations. About time, we build safety, reliability, and ethics, along with the alliance across nations and scientists in order to harness the power of AI to the maximum capacity. We must aim to use technology today to avoid the next pandemic and its severity, especially when data mining, AI and machine learning in epidemiology are here to stay for good.

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