How might one describe the global COVID-19 pandemic? It has been a tumultuous experience, where certainty and security have been upended, punctuated by extreme tragedy and loss of life. Businesses have been affected in unforeseen ways. Governments have been strained by the challenges this crisis has posed. Trust has been lost. We suffer, collectively, privately, and in ways we are still processing. In this climate, we welcome any panacea to this storm. Artificial Intelligence (AI), an often misunderstood tool, is here to offer a lifeline of stability to help us weather these unprecedented times. With strategies that help address the challenges of COVID-19 head-on, and others that provide more tangential benefits, AI, with its many use cases, is helping us navigate our way towards more stable seas.
The Challenges of Inoculation
One area where AI is tackling COVID-19 head-on is with the distribution of vaccines. While supplies of the new COVID vaccines are limited, it is crucial that healthcare services distribute the first rounds to those who need them most. By supplying at-risk populations first, early inoculation is made most effective. The challenge here lies in identifying those most at-risk out of millions of people with numerous variables and mitigating factors, a task beyond human comprehension. Luckily, AI is here to help.
IBM’s Watson Health Analytics Software combines zip code data with demographics, health status, myriad other risk factors, and even people’s potential attitudes towards vaccinations to ensure maximum efficiency and minimal wastage with the first stage of inoculation.
Being able to forecast demand is great, of course, but ensuring doses get to where they are needed poses a whole new set of problems. Another crucial point to remember about these vaccines is they have short expiry dates and must be refrigerated at all times, so efficiency in the transportation process is key. This is why many health services are turning to AI to help with optimizing logistics. Incorporating AI into the distribution process means bottlenecks can be quickly identified with accompanying solutions to help speed up the delivery process and minimize wastage. Additionally, AI helps track each dose from the manufacturer to the patient. This is especially useful since some countries are distributing both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. COVID has become the opportunity for AI to prove itself in the pharmaceutical field and produced effective strategies which can be utilized in the event of a future pandemic crisis.
Better Working from Home
Until these vaccines are administrated on an international scale, more and more businesses are having to embrace the new normal and work from home. Gartner Inc. reported 88% of businesses worldwide instructed their employees to work from home. While the transition from office to living room may have felt strange at first, many are turning to technology to help them operate at similar, if not better levels, of productivity than before. For many companies, working from home has proved beneficial as it lowers cost and provides a flexible work routine for their employees. It therefore comes as no surprise that more and more businesses are also considering remote working in a post-pandemic world.
Since the pandemic, the development of AI in supporting the working-from-home culture has accelerated. For example, by incorporating each participant’s online calendar, AI is able to calculate the most optimum time to schedule a meeting. It can also re-schedule meetings with ease by sending out a notification to everyone with the new date and time. This reduces time and effort while trying to co-ordinate even the largest and most disparate teams. AI boosts productivity and efficiency by suggesting times you should leave open for future meetings and even the resources you may need for them. It also has the potential to provide insight into the flow and pace of your meetings and offer real-time transcription with accurate voice recognition.
Another aspect of remote work that is often overlooked is the job interview process. This too is an area where AI’s benefits can be seen outside of the pandemic context. The recruitment process, unfortunately, can be laden with less than equitable practices. By relying on human recruiters, there is always the risk of overt or unconscious discriminatory practices.
This has led to companies such as Ideal to create what they call a talent acquisition intelligence platform, which uses AI to filter the applicant database while removing variables that would lead to decisions being made based on the person’s sex or race. Joonko has gone a step further by using AI to identify candidates based solely on their qualifications and skills which correlate to the requirements of the job. Systems like these are tremendously beneficial to companies as they are recruiting employees based on the needs of the position and not an extraneous factor.
Home Learning of the Future
Pandemic lockdowns have also lead to an increase in remote learning. For students, this can seem like an even more daunting time with an unpredictable career path and future awaiting them. Since COVID hit, 1.6 billion children in 191 countries moved to remote learning. This is sparking fears that students are learning less and struggling to motivate themselves to stay on top of their work. Luckily, modern technology and AI are here to lend a hand and make the experience of remote learning a fruitful one. In most schools, coding and AI are slowly working their way into the curriculum, equipping students with valuable skills needed to keep up with the technology that will be essential in their future work life.
The VIA Pixetto vision sensor can help students of all levels get to grips with coding in a self-learning setting. With a full HD Vision Sensor for learning AI and ML, featuring object, shape, color, face and handwriting recognition and pre-trained ML models and ML accelerator, the VIA Pixetto is the ideal tool for hands-on autodidactic learning. Students can follow free tutorials on the device’s website and learn to create a range of AI projects at their own pace, compatible with their learning style. Moreover, students will reap the rewards later on in life by being equipped with valuable experience in AI even though they may be limited to distanced learning.
A Leg Up in Cancer Screenings
While some areas of work and school have adapted to remote operation, some aspects of healthcare have stopped all together. The pressures of the pandemic have overshadowed lifesaving routine check-ups and treatments. Before coronavirus, millions would be invited to cancer screenings every week in the UK in an effort to catch the disease early, to save lives and reduce the strain on the health service. Since these check-ups were halted, Breast Cancer Now, a UK cancer screening program, estimates 986,000 women across the UK missed their mammograms screening and 8,600 could now be living with undetected breast cancer. Stats like these have accelerated efforts to integrate AI into the mammogram process to catch the disease even earlier and save more lives. Connie Lehman and the Avon Comprehensive Breast Evaluation Center in Massachusetts began using an algorithm called Mirai that analyses previous mammograms to detect even the tiniest of changes that pose a cancer risk. Miriai, created by MIT PHD student Adam Yala, is considerably more accurate than statistical models often used in mammograms. When the results were compared to historical patient data, 42% of women identified by the new algorithm developed breast cancer in the following five years, whereas the statistical data identified just 23%. With screenings like these, health services become even more effective at predicting a diagnosis than ever before.
Quarantines and lockdowns have also facilitated a rise in ecommerce, fulfilling the needs of millions who turn to online retailers for their shopping necessities. The efficiency of the warehouse and last mile delivery are now integral to businesses in a post-COVID world. With that increase comes a more demanding and hectic warehouse environment, with forklifts playing a key role. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), there are approximately 110,000 forklift related accidents every year with 85 of these resulting in fatalities. It is thought that 70% of these incidents could have been avoided with the correct training. The VIA Mobile360 AI Forklift Safety Kit can help boost safety and efficiency of the warehouse through its robust safety features and Driver Monitoring System (DMS), reducing the chance of a costly accident or worse, while conditioning drivers for proper driving behavior. The sophisticated DMS features a FOV-60o camera that detects signs of distraction, fatigue and even mobile phone usage, and delivers an actionable alert to the driver. With AI, workers gain an objective co-pilot with their best interests in mind.
During these extraordinary times, development in AI has accelerated exponentially and has been a life saver by providing innovative ways of effectively distributing vaccines, refining the working and learning experience for those stuck at home, improving the accuracy of cancer screenings, and increasing the safety of essential workers in warehouses all over the globe. While we continue to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s comforting to know that AI, and its many use cases, are here to aid us through the turbulence.
Written by Georgie Daulton, PR, Social Media and Marketing Communications intern at VIA, and undergraduate International Business student at the University of the West of England.