BlueDot, a Canadian artificial intelligence company, alerted its customers of an outbreak more than a week before the WHO notified the public of the COVID-19 outbreak. The company uses programs driven by artificial intelligence to analyze large amounts of information with the goal of discovering disease outbreaks. This company – and many others like it – could be key in helping thousands of people navigate COVID-19.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is a branch of computer science focused on intelligence displayed by machines. There are both pros and cons associated with the development of artificial intelligence. However, with the possibility of COVID-19 pushing 50 million more people into poor households in 2020, many countries are doing everything they can to harness this developing technology.

Artificial Intelligence, COVID-19 and Poverty

People in impoverished communities are facing a serious dilemma: should they continue to work and potentially catch COVID-19 or stay home and face hunger or malnutrition?

There is currently no vaccine for the virus, and lockdowns and social distancing measures are effective but economically harmful. Most people in poverty do not have the financial savings to support themselves. Similarly, restrictions have the potential to push already unstable economies in less developed countries into a recession. Fortunately, artificial intelligence is providing new ways to support people in such challenging times.

4 Ways Artificial Intelligence Can Help Impoverished Communities During COVID-19

  1. Satellite images and phone data are assisting in identifying communities in need of financial assistance. Policymakers in Togo, a West African nation, teamed up with UC Berkeley to find ways to use satellite images and phone data to identify the country’s most impoverished communities and provide aid. A similar program is already in use in various African countries. The NGO GiveDirectly partnered with a local phone company to give governmental assistance to subscribers who live in impoverished communities. The government contacts citizens and offers them a cash transfer. In March alone, GiveDirectly made payments totaling over $2.5 million to 13,806 recipients.
  2. The technology could help researchers analyze COVID-19 data and make clinical decisions. A doctor from Kashmir is using artificial intelligence to detect patterns in large amounts of COVID-19 data. Currently, there is an overwhelming influx of public health data surfacing. In addition, with the virus’s potential to push more people into poverty, there is a need to analyze and evaluate the data quickly. The doctor is also working with local professionals to discover innovative ways to provide healthcare in the country.
  3. Developing countries have started using artificial intelligence for surveillance and social control. Nations like Ecuador, Kenya, Peru and South Africa are using surveillance technologies to ensure citizens are using social distancing measures. South Africa implemented a “real-time contact tracing and communication system.” The software used to create the system was originally intended to detect rhinoceros poaching hotspots in national parks.
  4. Artificial intelligence makes it possible to accurately screen many people at a time from a distance. China has used the technology to install distanced fever-screening systems in railway and subway stations. Beijing’s Qinghe Railway Station houses one of the systems, which can “examine up to 200 people in one minute without disrupting passenger flow.” Many developing countries are densely packed, and many people in those countries have poor access to healthcare. Screening large numbers of people in a short period of time can have a positive impact on the fight against COVID-19 in developing countries.

The race to harness artificial intelligence is on around the globe. Artificial intelligence has the potential not only to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19 on developing countries but around the world. The public database Kaggle is sponsoring the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset Challenge. Its hope is that experts around the world will come together to find new ways to use artificial intelligence techniques. Ultimately, this will produce new insights to assist in the global fight against COVID-19.

Araceli Mercer
Photo: Flickr