AI solutions and COVID‐19
What solutions can artificial intelligence offer us in the wake of the current COVID‐19 global pandemic?
And how has its deployment been accelerated in sectors from healthcare to education in response?
AI Everything, Dubai's first major event since lockdown, provided some fascinating answers to these questions and many others.
Launching in 2019, AI Everything is already one of the largest dedicated AI events in the world. It attracts governments, unicorn startups (startup companies valued at over US$1 billion), Global 2000s (the annual ranking of the top 2,000 public companies by Forbes magazine) and small and medium‐sized enterprises (SME's), all to showcase their new AI projects to more than 10,000 international visitors.
As the first country in the world to elect a dedicated Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, the United Arab Emirates is one of the leading nations when it comes to implementing AI initiatives across mainstream industries.
Omar Bin Sultan Al Olama, who became that first AI Minister back in 2017, says it's never been more relevant in the wake of COVID 19:
"The issue with the pandemic is that it's a moving target; it spreads very fast.
"There's a lot of touch points, so you can't really have people go and sift through all of the data to understand how things are changing across the ground.
"There is a lot of work done using AI for simulation purposes; understanding the spread using AI and creating strategies to contain the spread of the virus."
AI pandemic predictions
At the event, Sherif Beshara, CEO of Dubai's American Hospital, admitted he was surprised at just how much AI had helped predict demand for medical capacity during the pandemic:
"I remember the first meeting that we attended at the disaster and crisis committee and how all the private sectors really got surprised by the government, that they were utilising AI.
"They gave us their predictions and (were) very clear on how many cases will come to Dubai and the UAE alone, about the consumables and equipment that we need, how many intensive care units and critical beds that we (would) require."
One successful recent application that Sherif Beshara noted has been with AI-powered robotic surgeons, which help their human counterparts further reduce complications such as infections contracted during surgery:
"Our robotic surgery (has performed) 105 cases during the pandemic on patients with extremely high risks, (resulting in) zero infections, zero complications."
Dr. Mohammad Al Redha, Director of Health Informatics and Smart Health with Dubai Health Authority also attended the event.
He believes it proved important for convincing medical experts about the effectiveness of AI input:
"Surgeons tend to be a tough crowd to work with. When it comes to convincing them that this is concerned with more patients’ safety, better outcome, better efficiency, I think that they go with the flow there and they turn out to be champions of certain technologies as well."
AI enhancing educational outcomes
However, with regards to education during the pandemic, distance learning and homeschooling has reminded many parents of the importance of quality teaching.
That’s one area where Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority Dubai (KHDA) believes that the human touch can be augmented but never replaced:
"(Teachers) signed up to connect with the child, to teach the child about him or herself and to teach the child about the world around them. AI is not going to do that.
"So I think (the pandemic) really re-established teaching as a profession and what it is supposed to be all about.
"What technology has done, is it has amplified our connectivity and therefore our humanity. And I think because of the pandemic, it showed us how important our humanity is."
Nearby at the Dubai Future Foundation, work is underway on the governance of AI in pedagogy ‐ the study of how knowledge and skills are transmitted in an educational context.
Mariam Obaid AlMheiri, the Foundation's Project Manager, says it's important to ensure that AI as used in education and recreation is ethical, responsible and protects children's privacy:
"We've seen the use of AI actually supporting children with autism (to) learn emotions. And that's done through AI, what we call Smart Toys. But what we're very interested in looking at is also how AI can help teachers to teach better.
"So that's things like understanding how a student learns and looking at the pattern recognition and then being able to adapt to that.
"These are tools that will support. But these are not tools that will replace."
Across the board from surgeries to nurseries, the pandemic has stimulated the adoption of AI, but some things will always just need that human touch to work in combination with these amazing tools.
The next AI Everything event will be held in Dubai in March 2021.