AI is being used to detect Covid-19 in CT scans of patients' lungs and to help discover a vaccine

Artificial intelligence (4)

Artificial intelligence can help businesses forecast gaps in the market during tough economic times (Credit: Unsplash/Franck V)

For the average office worker now in lockdown, tools like Zoom have been something of a godsend during the Covid-19 crisis – but artificial intelligence could have the biggest impact in fighting the pandemic, as Dean Stoecker, CEO and co-founder of California data analytics company Alteryx, explains.


In recent weeks, there has been an extraordinary rise in the demand for video conferencing as society gets to grips with both remote working and social distancing in the wake of a global COVID-19 pandemic.

This has left many calling video conferencing technology “this year’s most useful technology”.

If we are talking about social technologies alone, they are not wrong.

In a matter of weeks, video conferencing has managed to extend way beyond its business base and become a household staple – proving that disconnected doesn’t need to mean disengaged.

It also highlights how, through the right technology, a level of comfort can be provided through communication at such a fearful time.


Role of artificial intelligence in healthcare during Covid-19 pandemic

Yet, located right under our noses, another technology is working just as hard (if not harder) – playing a key role in helping curb this current crisis. That technology is artificial intelligence.

In China, AI is being used to help diagnose Covid-19 by interpreting CT scan images of patients’ lungs and detecting visual signs of the virus.

In the UK, more than 15,000 drugs are due to be screened by AI to determine their effectiveness as a treatment for Covid-19.

Alteryx CEO Dean Stoecker
Alteryx CEO and co-founder Dean Stoecker

Across the world, several drug discovery companies are using AI-powered techniques to discover both new and existing molecules that can be used to combat Covid-19.


Use of artificial intelligence in other industries during Covid-19 pandemic

But it’s not just in healthcare that AI can be useful at a time like this.

I visited a car manufacturer at its headquarters in Europe recently where the company’s technology lead walked me through a predictive modeling approach to disaster preparation.

Output from CalTech’s seismic sensor API was integrated with an enormous amount of supply chain data – such as vendor quality, reliability, lead time and landed price – then run through a series of algorithms to predict the possibility of a major earthquake disrupting the company’s most critical suppliers and therefore its own manufacturing capacity.

This forecasting allowed the manufacturer to request that in-market sourcing diversify suppliers to reduce dependence on a single high-risk facility.

It’s the same for Covid-19. Through AI, businesses can successfully anticipate where the gaps might show up and thus how to fill those gaps – and progress society.


How important is artificial intelligence in fighting Covid-19?

It’s here that we must remember that AI cannot solve the crisis alone. And, as the World Economic Forum reminds, human input is key.

As we speak, a capable community of statisticians, analytics experts and data workers across the world are using AI to find useful patterns and meaningful correlations for all sorts of covid-19 related use cases.

For this, however, data is needed. There’s an adage that says power isn’t what you know, power is what you share.

Each one of society’s pressure points – healthcare risk, workforce management and supply chain – are all best approached with shared data and strong analytical technology, wrapped in a community where use cases are learned and business outcomes socialised.

We are already seeing some great public work with AI at the helm, particularly around developing a vaccination.

However, behind the scenes, be assured that AI is working hard to ease many of the current and future pressure points caused by this crisis.

That is why, I believe that this year’s star technology is not in fact video conferencing – despite the joys it brings to many. It is, AI.