3 Ways AI and Data Scientists Can Help Respond to the COVID-19 Crisis
All industries already feel the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the economy. As many businesses had to shut down and either switch to telework or let go of their entire staff, there is no doubt that it will take a long time for the world to recover from this crisis.
Current prospects on the growth of the global economy, shared by different sources, support the idea of the long and painful recovery of the global economy from the COVID-19 crisis.
Statista, for example, compares the initial GDP growth prognosis for 2020 and the prognosis based on the impact of the novel coronavirus on the GPD growth, estimating the difference of as much as 0.5%:
The last time that global GDP experienced such a decline was back in 2008 when the global economic crisis affected every industry with no exceptions.
In the situation with the current pandemic, we also see that different industries change their growth prognoses.
The IT industry, for instance, the expected spending growth in 2020 doesn’t even exceed the pessimistic scenario related to the coronavirus pandemic, and is even expected to shrink:
It would be foolish to claim that the negative effect of the COVID-19 crisis can be reversed. It is already our reality that many businesses and industries around the world will suffer during the current global economic crisis.
Governments around the world responded to this crisis by helping businesses not go bankrupt with state financial support. However, this support is only expected to have a short-term effect and will hardly mitigate the final effect of the global economic crisis on businesses around the world.
So, in search of solutions to decrease the negative effect of drowning global economics, the world, among all other sources, will likely turn to the help of technology, just as the entire world did when it was forced to work from home.
In this article, we offer our stance on how AI and data scientists, in particular, can help respond to the COVID-19 crisis and help relieve its negative effect.
1. Data Science and Healthcare System
The biggest negative effect on the global economy can come from failing healthcare systems. It was the reason why governments around the world ordered citizens to stay at home and self-isolate, as, in many cases, the course of the COVID-19 disease can be asymptomatic.
Is increasing investment in the healthcare system a bad thing altogether?
No, if we are talking about healthcare systems at a local level, like a state or a province. “At a local level, increasing investments in the healthcare system increases the demand for related products and equipment in direct ratio,” says Dorian Martin, a researcher at WowGrade.
However, in case local governments run out of money in their emergency budgets, they might have to ask the state government for financial support.
This scenario could become our reality if the number of infected people rapidly increases, with hospitals potentially running out of equipment, beds, and, most critically, staff.
What can data science do to help manage this crisis?
UK’s NHS Healthcare Data Storage
Some countries are already preparing for the scenario described above with the help of data scientists.
For instance, the UK government ordered NHS England to develop a data store that would combine multiple data sources and make them deliver information to one secure cloud storage.
What will this data include?
This cloud storage will help NHS healthcare workers access information on the movement of the critical staff, the availability of hospital beds and equipment.
Apart from that, this data storage will help the government to get a comprehensive and accurate view of the current situation to detect anomalies and make timely decisions based on real data received from hospitals and NHS partner organizations.
Thus, the UK government and NHS are looking into data science to create a system that will help the country tackle the crisis consistently, and manage the supply and demand for critical hospital equipment needed to fight the pandemic.
2. AI’s Part in Creating the COVID-19 Vaccine
Another critical factor that has an effect on the current global economic crisis is the COVID-19 vaccine. It has already become clear that the world is in the standby mode until scientists develop a vaccine that will return people to their normal lives.
It’s a simple cause-and-effect relationship: both global economy and local economies depend on consistent production, production depends on open and functioning production facilities, which depend on workers, who, in their turn, depend on the vaccine to be able to return to work.
And while we still have over a year before the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to the wide public, scientists turn to AI to speed up the process.
How Can AI Help Develop the COVID-19 Vaccine?
- With the help of AI, scientists can analyze the structure of the virus and how it attaches itself to human cells, i.e., its behavior. This data helps researchers build the foundation for vaccine development.
- AI and data science become part of the vaccine development process, as they help scientists analyze thousands of research papers on the matter to make their approach to the vaccine more precise.
An important part of developing a vaccine is analyzing and understanding the protein of the virus and its genetic sequence. In January 2020, Google DeepMind launched a system that builds the virus’s protein in the 3D mode – AlphaFold. This invention already helped the U.S. scientists study the virus enough to create a trial vaccine and launch clinical trials this week.
However, scientists are looking into the ways, how AI can not only be involved in gathering information, but also in the very process of creating a vaccine.
There have already been cases of drugs successfully created by AI. The British startup Excienta created its first drug with the help of artificial intelligence algorithms. The drug is currently undergoing clinical trials. But it will take this drug only 12 months to be ready, compared to 5 years that it usually takes.
Thus, AI gives the world hope that the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine will be available to the world faster than it’s currently predicted. Yet, there are still a few problems of artificial intelligence implementation in this process, which are mainly connected to AI being underdeveloped itself.
3. Data Science and the Fight Against Misinformation
Another factor, which is mostly related to how people respond to the current crisis, and yet has the most negative effect on the global economy, is panic.
We’ve already seen the effects of the rising panic during the Ebola virus crisis in Africa when local economies suffered from plummeting sectors like tourism and commerce.
In economics, the period between the boom (the rising demand for the product) and the bust (a drop in product availability) is very short. During the current pandemic, we’ve seen quite a few examples of how panic buying led to low supply, which damaged local economies.
How Can Data Scientists Tackle the Threat of Panic?
The answer is already in the question – with data.
One of the reasons why people panic is misinformation. “Our online poll has shown that only 12% of respondents read authoritative COVID-19-related resources, while others mostly relied on word-of-mouth approach,” says Martin Harris, a researcher at Studicus.
Misinformation, unfortunately, happens not only among people but on the government level as well. One of the best examples of it is the U.S. officials promoting a drug against malaria as an effective method to treat COVID-19 patients, when, in fact, the effectiveness of this drug hasn’t been proven yet.
The best solution to treat the virus of panic and misinformation is to accumulate all the information from the authoritative resources on the COVID-19 pandemic to help people observe it not only on the local but on the global level as well.
Data scientists and developers at Boston Children’s Hospital have created such a system, called HealthMap, to help people track COVID-19 pandemic, as well as other disease outbreaks around the world.
This map accumulated all the information about the coronavirus pandemic situation in the countries across the globe, which the internet users can read to educate themselves. It’s a great initiative to stop the panic and make the wide public well-informed.
While there are already quite a few applications of AI and data science that help us respond to the COVID-19 crisis, this crisis is still in its early stages of development.
As we already can use data science to accumulate important information regarding critical hospital staff and equipment, fight misinformation, and use AI to develop the vaccine, we still might discover new ways of applying AI and data science to help the world respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
Yet, today, we can already say that AI and data science have been of enormous help in fighting the pandemic, giving us hope that we will return to our normal lives as soon as possible.
Author bio: Estelle Liotard is a contributing writer at TrustMyPaper and a senior editor at GrabMyEssay. She started her writing career as a moderator at a dissertations website and then became a solo entrepreneur after launching her digital marketing blog, where she shares her best essays as well as in-depth marketing research.