Can Artificial Intelligence Predict Future Pandemics?

Jul 31, 2020
4 min read

Do you know what telemedicine is and how it can help at predicting future pandemics like COVID-19? Since we got into the severe coronavirus outbreak, people have been talking about the development of technologies that can prevent it. However, we have not seen that much about preventing future pandemics.

In December of 2019, an alert was fired by health tech Blue Dot, warning about the risk of a pandemic in China, which we now know as the coronavirus.

The company explains that the alert could only be fired due to an algorithm that collects various information from different sources, and crosses it with its database, thus being able to report possible disease outbreaks, whether existing or not.

The Blue Dot algorithm uses techniques of natural language processing and machine learning to identify the symptoms present and the number of people who present it.

"We can pick up news of possible outbreaks, small murmurs, forums, or blogs with indications of some kind of unusual event happening." according to the CEO of Blue Dot.

In fact, this is how the algorithm indicated the risk of contamination in Bangkok, Seoul, Taipei, and Tokyo - all confirmed and were some of the first places affected by the virus outside China.

A major factor responsible for the fast spread and slow prevention of the pandemic was the nine-day delay by the World Health Organization to put the problem in evidence and take the necessary measures. Sometimes, algorithms aren't enough. You need health and medical professionals to take action as well.

According to Kai-Fu-Lee, ex-president of Google China and the current president of Sinovation Ventures (Chinese venture capital investment company), we can use these algorithms and improve them to help discover new pandemics in the future.

Lee talked a lot about the topic of his participation in Brazil at Silicon Valley and said that using telemedicine to create a large database of the health of the population and that it is possible to use artificial intelligence to predict and prevent pandemics.

"I think that in the long term, pandemic prevention will be possible with artificial intelligence," said Lee. "We will use smart clothes, known as wearables, that will produce data and send it to the cloud where it will be possible to notice anomalies early. So I hope that the next pandemic can be predicted and prevented."

The idea proposed by Lee and several experts on the subject, that through telemedicine - the use of technology to monitor the health of patients from different places - whether through applications or watches with health monitoring, we can generate enough data to create a large cloud with all the information needed to predict a new pandemic. But predicting a pandemic goes beyond AI. It would be best if you had health and medical professionals take action quickly and actively work against it early on. The nine-day delay by the WHO was catastrophic and led to a much faster spread of the coronavirus.

The importance of predicting the pandemic is directly linked to its prevention. The faster the diagnosis, the faster the treatment or isolation will be. Several researchers claim that this will be the last major global pandemic if we direct technology to this research.

With the information generated, unique genetic sequencing algorithms can be created for each person in the world, being able to personalize treatments and overcome conventional medicine.

"Doctors cannot digest complete genetic sequencing, but artificial intelligence can." say the experts.

If you really can't imagine this ideal world of algorithms, try to imagine the following:

You acquire a watch that monitors your heartbeat and body temperature. Every time it peaks or goes down drastically, the watch triggers an alert and redirects you to a diagnostic application.

Within the application, you should answer a simple questionnaire about your symptoms. If the algorithm diagnoses some risk, it asks you to redirect to a health center. Otherwise, the application understands that it may have been a common change due to some other factor. This is already somewhat a reality, think about the new Apple Watch. It can monitor heart rate fairly well in older people. However, further research and development needs to be done to perfect this.

The system would have two main benefits:

  1. Diagnose possible health problems, and redirect you to service as soon as possible.
  2. Create a database with the symptoms and health monitoring of the world population, so that it identifies patterns and indicates epicenters of diseases.

As we can see, Artificial Intelligence plays a vital role in our daily lives, and even more so in matters of public health. We can and must use it for our well-being.

The current pandemic of COVID-19 has led us to global economic catastrophes, and the deaths of thousands of people in all countries. It is difficult to say whether our planet Earth could withstand yet another great outbreak like this.

Several researchers have developed studies of algorithms in disease forecast and prevention, so this can be the last pandemic experienced by us. In addition to it, companies around the world have invested high capital to finance this idea.

It is not possible to say with a hundred percent certainty that this idea is perfect, and in fact, it probably is not. However, the big question raised in this article is: how we must use technology and improve it to our advantage? As much as it does not work exactly as we expect, we will undoubtedly have a better scenario than the previous one.

If Artificial Intelligence can save us from losing 400,000 lives, do you think it's worth a try?