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How AI Is Helping Us to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management

The 2020 pandemic is infecting all of America and the world. But it has something working extremely hard toward its solution: artificial intelligence (AI).

AI Makes Searching COVID-19 Databanks Faster and Easier

AI is helping find a cure for COVID-19 by helping us to sift through vast amounts of health data. There is a literature-based discovery current under way.

On March 16, 2020, the White House Office of Science and Technology issued a Call to Action for AI experts to develop new data mining and text mining techniques to help in the search for a COVID-19 cure. That search will require those experts to dive into huge databases of scholarly articles that contain numbers and words relating to COVID-19.

With more than 200 professional, academic and peer-reviewed journal articles being published every day, it is doubtful that one person or even a team can read and digest salient findings in the compressed time period that this pandemic demands. But the hope for a fast cure requires diligent combing through such research findings to pinpoint a potential solution.

The journal articles are part of a huge number of databases that contain all this relevant scientific information. These databases are located all over the world, and they are not all connected.

But that situation is changing. Data stored in these international databases is known as “labeled data,” which is verified as coming from a valid source. This labeled data can be used to train AI software searching for patterns in that data.

Text Mining and CORD-19

AI text mining is one of the reasons to why drug companies and research institutes are finding possible solutions to the pandemic more quickly. One of the first datasets that started this push for reviewing academic articles is the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19).

This repository of 29,000 scholarly articles that can be read by AI computer software has thousands of coronavirus-related articles available at no cost. This text mining of scientific results around this current pandemic is but one tool for doctors and researchers to use.

There was a surge of interest from universities and medical research organizations with the announcement of CORD-19. The list of organizations and systems deeply involved in the creation of CORD-19 included:

  • The Allen Institute for AI
  • AlphaFold
  • DeepMind
  • BlueDot
  • Benevolent AI

AI Has Made Business Operations Faster, Despite the Changes Created by COVID-19

A meeting at a Federal Reserve bank was recently held to review the current COVID-19 pandemic and how AI applications could help solve many business problems. “For decades, the U.S. economy has seen increasing automation in industries spanning manufacturing to food service to office work. But the COVID-19 pandemic has ensured that those transitions are now occurring at lightning speed,” according to Patrick Harker of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.  

Other Ways AI Is Helpful During the Pandemic

Also, Science Digest went into further detail about how AI is being applied to this pandemic. Their main observations include:

  • This technology is helpful for proper screening, tracking, and predicting current and future patients.
  • The major applications of AI are for the early detection and diagnosis of COVID-19 infection.
  • AI is useful for the development of drugs and vaccines and for the reduction of the workload of healthcare workers.

AI has played a vital role in working to control the spread of COVID-19. But AI is far from a silver bullet, and human judgment is still needed to combat this pandemic. However, utilizing AI for database and text mining is providing us with new and better knowledge to help us fight this global disease. 

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.

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