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How COVID-19 affects AI and data

By Carole Railton

COVID-19 has changed our lives, literally. New technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), are going to have the greatest impact both during and following this pandemic. But data too will have an impact.

Businesses and health authorities need to analyse and interpret data quickly from academic research centres worldwide. One of the more noticeable results of this data being utilised at speed are the nightly graphs on our TVs that show infection and death rates in our own regions and around the globe. The collation of data relating to COVID-19 and the actions taken by governments have probably saved many from dying.

The Spanish flu in 1918 resulted in a total of around 50 million deaths. Since then, the standard of care people receive has improved as medical technology has advanced, and data is used more effectively. The ability to use the latest data about the pandemic has helped to stop the outbreak from spreading because scientists and the public are able to see more quickly when more people are infected – a phenomenon known as "spikes". Lockdowns are used to stop new "spikes".

It's not only AI and its associated advances that are helping in this pandemic. There has been a big upsurge in the amount of medical literature too. April this year saw 28,000 published papers about COVID-19. Technology has made it easier to read all the papers, and get our hands on data that applies to us.

There are ways of interrogating data that can be used by the public, and even a "natural language processing" (NLP) which makes data available to anyone doing research. (NLP processing is a subfield of linguistics, computer science, and AI and is concerned with the interactions between computers and human language.) You can find out everything you want to know about the pandemic, such as the effects on a particular age group or how the pandemic is impacting a particular part of the world. For seniors, who have been affected by COVID-19 more than any other group, having this data is particularly important. It makes it possible for people to make their own judgements especially in relation to their health.

This huge databank of information will also make it possible to predict the next pandemic. Governments can then take appropriate action, so we all stay safe.

Photo: by Carole Railton. The pandemic is affecting AI and data collection

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