AI and Covid’s symbiotic relationship may make for tech’s Trojan horse

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has come into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic. But while the tech has strengthened the response to the crisis and enabled vaccine conspiracy theories to be throttled, it has also been seen as a Trojan horse by privacy advocates.


It’s been a year and a half since Covid-19 broke out. In the intervening chaos, the role AI played in protecting lives may have been overlooked. Prior to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) first public statement that a pandemic was looming, a warning about a coronavirus outbreak had in fact already been made with the aid of AI.


On New Year’s Eve 2019, Canadian health monitoring platform BlueDot warned its customers to avoid Wuhan, China and its burgeoning outbreak. The public would only get similar proclamations a week or more later from entities such as the WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BlueDot has form in this area, having previously predicted the 2014 and 2016 breakouts of Ebola and Zika respectively. Its early notification system for infectious disease is made possible by an AI-driven algorithm that sifts through news reports, official proclamations, animal and plant disease networks, and even airline data that can help predict where and when infected persons are travelling next.


That AI made it possible for humans to spot the budding coronavirus crisis in its early stages is apt considering how much the pandemic has accelerated adoption of the technology since last year. According to GlobalData’s Global Emerging Technology Trends Survey 2020, more than three-quarters of companies believe AI has played a role in helping them survive the Covid-19 pandemic.


GlobalData’s thematic research on artificial intelligence goes as far to say the pandemic and AI “have something of a symbiotic relationship.” In the view of its analysts, this is down to how AI is helping with efforts to control the virus and related-misinformation, whilst also preserving public engagement in socially-distanced times.


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