How do AI and Big Data help fight against COVID-19?

Artificial Intelligence and Big Data offer a lot of perspectives in terms of detection, prediction of propagation, vaccine research or synthesis of studies. So, how do AI and Big Data help to fight against COVID-19? Elements of answers.



As the end of 2020 is fast approaching, it becomes difficult to remember a world without VID-19. What started as a distant virus in a market in China has caused a tidal wave. The evolution of the pandemic is now setting the pace for the daily lives of the world's inhabitants.

Fortunately, technology is giving us new weapons to fight this invisible enemy. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and big data offer many perspectives in terms of detection, prediction of the spread, search for a vaccine or synthesis of studies.

So, checkmate coronavirus? Not yet but we have the possibility to take a few steps ahead.

Rapid detection of diseased and infectious clusters

In December 2019, a Canadian startup then unknown to the general public identified an unusual core of pneumonia cases in the Wuhan region of China. Just ten days before an official communication from the World Health Organization, the BlueDot company had identified the first cluster of COVID-19.

To achieve this, the startup specialized in infectious diseases used big data and artificial intelligence. Indeed, BlueDot uses artificial intelligence and in particular machine learning to cross-check hundreds of thousands of data from various sources. These sources include news releases from national health agencies, demographic data, local media, airline data, and reports on certain livestock and poultry diseases.

The artificial intelligence developed by BlueDot gobbles up information and processes it almost instantly. It then sends alerts that are analyzed by the startup.

Of course, the degree of accuracy of the alerts is highly dependent on the quality and quantity of the analyzed data. Nevertheless, artificial intelligence makes it possible to exploit this data when a human mind would be unable to make the adequate cross-checks.

Propagation monitoring and diagnosis

Artificial intelligence and big data can also predict the spread of the virus. Here too, the analysis of large-scale data, such as airline data or GPS travel, can help track the virus to predict future clusters. The technology and data are there, available, but there are some problems in using them.

In practice, the use of some data that is considered private is controversial and raises ethical issues. In France, the mixed success of the StopCovid application is a testament to the reluctance of the population. Despite a certain amount of enthusiasm since the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in France, the general public remains suspicious of its use.

Artificial intelligence also helps in diagnosis. Several research projects related to the healthtech sector are attempting to demonstrate that artificial intelligence allows for better diagnosis than the human mind.

Help in search for a vaccine and treatment

The number of studies or research concerning the coronavirus is growing every day. As of July 2020, there were more than 67,000 different documents. Only artificial intelligence is able to assimilate these documents and synthesize all the research in order to take advantage of them.

In medical research as well, big data can speed up the process in different ways:

  • Scanning existing drugs and identifying potential treatments thanks to deep learning;
  • Analyzing and sharing scientific or hospital data. One example is the work of the company DeepMind (linked to Google). In 2019, the World Economic Forum estimated that 97% of the data produced by hospitals was unused. The potential room for improvement is therefore phenomenal.

Artificial intelligence therefore helps researchers to have a maximum of elements at their disposal and to transform these elements into useful and usable information.


Use of robots and customization treatments

Artificial intelligence also makes it possible to preserve humans in a much more concrete way. For example, the use of robots to perform "risky" tasks protects medical personnel.

The most common application is the disinfection of equipment or premises. According to the New York Times, the use of "robot disinfectants" could reduce the risk of environmental infections by 50-100%. Drones can also disinfect public spaces in seconds.

Simply put, robots limit interactions between healthy humans and infected patients. This reduces the risk of contagion. According to National Geographic, 33 countries were using robots in the fight against coronavirus in July 2020. The epidemic will have allowed the world to discover the added value of this metal worker.

Threats related to the use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence

On paper, therefore, the human species has a sizeable arsenal at its disposal to combat VIDOC-19. Nevertheless, the use of artificial intelligence and big data also creates a certain number of risks and debates. Among the controversial subjects, we can pinpoint:

  • The protection of privacy and data protection: it is the sinews of war par excellence. The use of GPS data, particularly in terms of traceability, is constantly being debated. In the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protects citizens. An official communiqué was published in March 2020 on the subject. In addition, many initiatives involve technology giants (Amazon, Google and others) which increases the mistrust of data sharing;
  • Data quality: data allows artificial intelligence to identify patterns and help decision-making. Beyond the quantity of data, the issue of data quality is central. If the data is corrupted or incomplete, the conclusions will inevitably be biased. Some initiatives exist at the national level to better centralize data. This is the case of the Health Data Hub in France, which aims to create a collective heritage of health data;
  • Political rivalry: even if some form of cooperation exists, the race for vaccines is well underway and the economic and human stakes are colossal;
  • The risks of cyber-attacks: threats of cyber-attacks have been omnipresent since the arrival of COVID-19 and the need to secure systems, particularly in the health sector, is being felt.

Healthcheck, a sector of the future

Despite these threats, the potential of the healthtech sector is considerable and is not limited to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Deloitte reported that the amount of investment in the field was close to $7.4 billion in the United States alone. The year 2020 will have only reinforced the trend.

As you will have understood, developments in the field of health care require optimal data processing. The data engineering platform proposed by Ryax offers many opportunities, particularly in terms of laboratory automation. For more information, do not hesitate to contact us.

The Ryax Team.