The use of artificial intelligence is now the norm in many industries, from integrating the technology in autonomous vehicles for safety, to AI algorithms being used to improve advertising campaigns. But, by using it in healthcare, could it also help us predict the outbreak of a virus such as the COVID-19 coronavirus?
Since the first cases were seen at the end of December 2019, coronavirus has spread from Wuhan, China, to 34 countries around the world, with more than 80,000 cases recorded. A hospital was built in 10 days to provide the 1,000 beds needed for those who had fallen victim to the virus in Wuhan – 97 per cent of cases reported are in China.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the world should prepare for a global coronavirus pandemic. The virus can be spread from person to person via respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. According to the WHO: "Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death."
AI developers have suggested that the technology could have been used to flag irregular symptoms before clinicians realise there is a developing problem. AI could alert medical institutions to spikes in the number of people suffering from the same symptoms, giving them two to four weeks' advance warning – which in turn could allow them time to test for a cure and keep the public better informed.
As the virus continues to spread, AI is now being used to help predict where in the world it will strike next. The technology sifts through news stories and air traffic information, in order to detect and monitor the spread of the virus.