30 July 2020 by Andrew Dolan

It’s fair to say that proponents of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its broadest sense will have been encouraged by the various references as to how AI has contributed to the global effort to combat the coronavirus. 

For some years now, it has been popular to ‘talk up’ the benefits of medical AI and how to some degree this would be a ‘game changer’ in public health and clinical intervention.  Admittedly some elements of these claims have been sheer hyperbole but in other cases the claims have been justified.  

Yet arguably it was unforeseen that the global community would have had the opportunity to trial and test some of these applications in such a critical way and with the results being so eagerly anticipated.

It was not only the case that specific forms or applications of AI were being applied but that this application reflected so many different aspects of the pandemic timeline and mitigation strategies.  Forms of AI were constantly being applied to predictive public health intelligence efforts as countries sought to gain some insight into the presence, evolution and impact of a novel virus, the trends in addressing infection rates and their curves and the possibility of second waves of infection.

Within a clinical context, tremendous efforts have been made to develop robust and useable vaccines.  Some of these efforts have benefitted from various forms of genetic manipulation, although one must be careful to delineate between AI-inspired outcomes and sheer human ingenuity shaping clever but not necessarily intelligent data or software.

Perhaps more worrying has been the efforts of both governments and commercial tech giants to exploit AI in order to develop workable ‘track and trace’ surveillance platforms.  Indeed, such a development would be a fine case study for any university ethics class as they sought to balance the need for private data for tracking virus outbreaks and pathways and the lack of clarity about what such a system might potentially lead to, with critics referring to Chinese models of data acquisition and its contribution to social control mechanisms.

For those interested in such aspects of either pandemic management or AI capabilities, the COVID-19 coronavirus and its handling will offer both proponents and critics of AI ample opportunity to study machine intelligence under a range of critical situations.  This in turn will generate a tsunami of learned papers and research studies, which will inform the familiar and unfamiliar alike with a profitable insight into some future directions for beneficial AI.

AI Forum Hungary intends to bring some of this material to you from time to time and we begin by posting a typical high-quality report that should stimulate you interest going forward.