TechnologyHow Canadian AI systems are stepping up in fight against COVID-19

Mary ChapmanMay 28, 20207 min

With restrictions on social interactions and a global pandemic to contend with, the world is turning to artificial intelligence technologies such as machine learning, computer vision and natural-language processing to help track, stop and possibly even find a cure for COVID-19.

Here’s how.

Traditional drug strategies take too long

It takes scientists years to develop a new drug. Then, there are six or seven years of clinical trials to get through. As far as COVID-19 goes, that’s a little too late.  Who knows if we will even need a vaccine in 2026?

A Vancouver-based company called Variational AI is using AI to speed up the drug production process. Their algorithm takes all the approved drugs on the planet and uses AI to see how they bind. Once they know that, they can make a shortlist of which drugs would be most effective against coronavirus. Best of all, with this process, there would be no need for a clinical trial because all these drugs have already been approved by the proper authorities.

Time will tell if a vaccine for COVID will be forthcoming.

AI used for disease surveillance

Migration of people has been responsible for the spread of this coronavirus from Wuhan, China to hundreds of countries around the world.

That’s why surveillance is paramount for all infectious diseases and COVID-19 is no exception. Canadian start-up BlueDot has leveraged machine learning and natural-language processing in order to track and report the spread of COVID-19. They also issued a warning nine days earlier than both the WHO and CDC.

The key to BlueDot is big data. It processes huge amounts of information ranging from global organizations, livestock health reports, global airline ticketing data and more. It processes this information every 15 minutes 24 hours a day.

Knowing where the virus will spread to next is a critical step in the line of defence in order to protect as many people as possible.

AI chatbots used in healthcare

Healthcare systems have been severely taxed due to the surging number of COVID-19 cases. To help, Ottawa-based firm Stallion AI has built a multi-lingual virtual agent that can answer online questions related to COVID-19.

This chatbot can provide clear and reliable information and guidelines. It can recommend protection measures and check and monitor symptoms. The bot can tell people whether to self-isolate at home or head to the hospital for screening.

By providing this service, other healthcare workers are freed up to care for patients.

Detecting COVID-19 in medical imagery using AI

Canadian governments have been under fire due to low COVID-19 testing. Ontario recently announced that it plans to increase testing to 16,000 tests a day.

Yet, it’s no secret that viral test kits are in short supply. Scientists have been looking for alternative ways to diagnose coronavirus. AI researchers are hoping that using computer vision to look at chest imaging will allow medical professionals to differentiate between COVID-19 and other infections.

Several firms have launched AI systems that detect COVID-19 by using X-ray and CT scans. One example is COVID-Net, a system developed by DarwinAI at the University of Waterloo.

Bottom line

All across the world, researchers, scientists, and politicians are working together to find ways to thwart COVID-19 and deal with the surge of patients. Artificial intelligence is providing valuable assistance in this fight.

To find out more about how technology is helping us in the fight against COVID-19 as well as in many other areas of life, keep visiting this site where we will continue to offer topical information on cutting-edge technological breakthroughs.

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Mary Chapman

Graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honors BA English Specialization and has completed several publishing courses at Ryerson University. She is a proofreader, editor, and content writer based in London, Ontario.

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