COVID-19 is changing everything. Life will be different. Life is different. Welcome to the new normal. What will be different is the big question though… along with how long will COVID-19 and its impact be in our lives? That is why people are frequently asking the question: what are we doing with artificial intelligence (AI) in the fight against COVID-19? Well, there is a lot of focus on contact tracing and virus research. However, there are five key areas for society to focus more on in addition to these two.
Anticipating COVID-19 Mutation
There is real concern that COVID-19 may return in upcoming Fall/Winter months or may even mutate and become a seasonal virus like influenza. Thankfully, we can leverage AI and generative design to help us. With this combination, AI can identify millions of potential COVID-19 mutations including combinations people never have thought about occurring. Also, by applying environmental factors, AI can present healthcare researchers with 10-20 most likely mutations for the upcoming seasons. Armed with this knowledge (and virus genomics), researchers could start identifying preventive measures, or perhaps even a “flu shot”, before the viral outbreak occurs. In effect, people can defeat a potential disease before it even happens. That is, we can prevent epidemics, let alone, pandemics.
Managing the Supply Chain of Equipment and People
With rapid growth, companies are having a tough time managing the supply chain of equipment and people as well as getting them to where they will be needed the most. It is actually such a big challenge that the FDA has been leveraging Twitter to manage things. We already have AI tools and deep analytics solutions that can be applied to predict COVID-19 hotspots allowing us to more effectively route medical supplies and equipment as well as healthcare practitioners. Furthermore, we can leverage real-time micro-location technology such as SmartPoint to load balance where people are sent for COVID-19 testing and medical treatment to minimize wait times (and exposure to other people) and test result time by not overloading a few labs to process most of the tests.
Securing Food Production
While a solid supply of food has been availability throughout most of the pandemic, there is concern about future food production, even the short-term of just a few months from now. The FDA released new guidelines on food production and safety to protect workers and people from COVID-19. However, there is substantial concern about the food supply chain. Already, farmers are seeing challenges in getting enough workers to harvest food… and that is not something that can wait a week (or even a few days for certain fruits and vegetables.) Likewise, food handlers and distributors are worried about safety precautions to help them avoid disease, and everyone is concerned about food contamination with COVID-19. Adding to struggle, many emerging market countries are starting to export less food amidst concerns about panic buying in their local markets.
So, what options are there? Luckily, there are a host of AgTech solutions we can leverage to improve food production with less resources and people. For example, a combination of AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), farmers are now leveraging thousands of data points right at the ground level (literally) to improve crop yields by as much as 30% while using less topsoil and water. They can now analyze real-time data on weather, soil conditions, insect/pest impact, etc. to make better decisions. They are also using AI and GPS for precision agriculture to improve harvest capabilities. Even with we experience widespread COVID-19 impact to human workers, we can leverage these technologies to maintain a sufficient food supply.
So far, about 30 million jobs were lost in the United States alone. Worse, current estimates predict about 47 million jobs just in the United States lost because of COVID-19, which is about 32% of the U.S. workforce. (That’s worst than the Great Depression!) Even after we clear the COVID-19 hurdle, many jobs will not immediately come back. Consider, will be people suddenly return to restaurants, airplanes, movie theatres, etc. after such a scare? Think about the industries that will be permanently changed such as commercial real estate where companies are now realizing that their employees can work effectively work from home.
Interestingly, we have a short-term solution that can be scaled to a long-term solution, and, potentially, create better paying jobs for people. Recently, the World Economic Forum has recommended retraining unemployed people as community health workers to help combat the COVID-19 outbreak. We have tools and infrastructure to teach people online the skills that they need to be community health workers. We can build upon online learning by leveraging AI mentors (and in cases where we people have access, virtual reality) to teach people advanced skills. Hard to believe? A UCLA training survey has shown that companies like Osso VR can provide effective training to complex and highly skilled activities like surgeries. With shelter in-place, imagine what skills people can learn with their time with access to free training assisted by an AI tutor. It would be a huge boon to getting jobs that would have immediate demand.
Providing for Mental Health Needs
COVID-19 has put a lot of stress on all of us with fear about getting ill, dying, losing our job, not paying mortgages, cabin fever, etc. Plus, domestic violence and child abuse are on the rise. Even after people bounce back form COVID-19, there is real concern that many people will suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), alcoholism, depression, etc. In a time of social distancing, we cannot exactly see a therapist (at least in person) so the World Economic Forum has posted some guidelines to help people try to maintain good mental health. However, we can take this one step further. Thanks to the psychographic profiling capabilities of AI, we can create a non-judgmental AI outlet for people to talk with and help maintain good mental health practices. Thanks to solutions like Cyrano.ai and Woebot, people have these AI channels to deal with their stress and get assistance in recognizing if they need more serious help, like talking with a human therapist. Hopefully, with these types of AI solutions, we will emerge from COVID-19 with more robust mental health and less addiction problems so that we can more effectively work on rebuilding our lives, jobs, businesses, and normal social interactions.