Coronavirus: Technology to fight the outbreak

Coronavirus: Technology to fight the outbreak

When the coronavirus kicked off and the news talked about how the Chinese government was containing the expansion, few realized that this is an ideal time to understand the concept of “Surveillance State.”

Due to the traditional social control campaign that was applied – doors marking families with infected people and even rewards for the information of the whereabouts of people from the cities of the virus (Hubei, Yueyang, Hunan and Xinyang) – the advanced technological surveillance of China that we’ve all heard about has unthinkable implications, such as:

  • Remote cameras capable of identifying people with a slightly higher temperature than normal in the middle of a crowd; a facial recognition algorithm that can run even when they use masks to breathe and send the data to the police, in real time, with geo-positioning, for interception and containment.
  • Identify a person without a travel permit on a public transport, even wearing a mask, and automatically notify people who are physically close by notifying them on their mobiles … and adding them to the database of potential carriers.

While some people talk about rates of infection of the coronavirus, mortality or expansion or compare it with historical diseases, I wonder if they take into account these modern capacities to identify, isolate and contain movements of entire cities in days.  

While extensive surveillance and public control may sound frightening for our freedom and democracy, the technology used today in order to create the state of control such as the technology used by the Chinese state is incredibly efficient in this type of crisis. From facial recognition to infrared cameras, the technology used today can and have shown to play an important role in case of an epidemic or pandemic crisis. John Brownstein, the director of innovation at Harvard Medical School and expert in social media information mining for health trends, is for instance part of an international team that uses machine learning to analyze social media posts, news reports, data from official public health channels and information provided by doctors to detect warning signs that the virus is settling in a particular country outside China. The algorithm is able to pinpoint the geoposition of the affected area or group of people and gathering data by searching for publications on social networks that mention specific symptoms, such as respiratory problems and fever, from a geographical area where doctors have reported potential cases. Natural language processing is used to analyze the text published on social networks, for example, to distinguish between someone who discusses the news and someone who complains about how they feel. A company called BlueDot for instance used a similar approach to detect the coronavirus in late December, even before the Chinese authorities recognized the emergency.

Beside smart algorithms, Chine is using super computing and AI to provide high-performance computing to support researchers in large-scale screening of potential drugs to fight new coronaviruses and for predicting virus mutations.

“AI is going to have a big impact on developing a cure for the virus,” said Edgar Perez, author of The AI Breakthrough. “It’s going to be very helpful to develop something that is going to be new for the coronavirus but still rely on the experience of researchers in the past who have worked on similar diseases such as Mers, or Sars.”

Will artificial intelligence, quantum computing and machine learning be able to solve the coronavirus crisis and establish a protocol to prevent future crisis?

For now, let monitor the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE through the following report.