AI: Can machine learning step up in the fight against Covid-19?

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Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new concept. The term itself is now more than half a century old. But it’s maybe only in recent years that we see AI taking greater strides forward. For tech companies and marketers alike, it’s a buzzword that’s an increasing part of our daily lives. It’s in gadgets we use every day (Hey Siri!). It’s also all around us outside the home. But, with the world battling to defeat coronavirus, could AI now step up and take on a whole new meaning?

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That this could be AI’s time to truly shine is very much a school of thought. Just the economic and societal impact of Covid-19 is enough to make people believe that machine learning must surely be the way forward. Of course, however, it needs more than optimism. And that’s OK – because we can already point towards AI’s capabilities. It continues to develop with each new task or function – but already there are numerous sectors benefiting from modern applications.

The AI Journey: What stage are we now at?

Since the term first entered wider consciousness in 1956, the use of AI has blossomed. Sure – some ‘uses’ may have been exaggerated a little. But that shouldn’t obscure the fact that apps and machine learning are forever changing (and improving?) the way things are being done. It is in the ability to translate languages instantaneously or perform automated credit checks.

In the unpredictable world of forex trading, meanwhile, AI can enhance the analysis of market trends. It’s not always reactive, either. Some traders believe that it actually possible to use AI in a way that can predict movements in the market. This is machine learning on another level.

One area in which AI is being adopted with particular effectiveness is the healthcare sector. The field of drug discovery, for example, is already seeing significant improvements thanks to AI. In one example, one company has used AI to design and validate a new drug candidate in only 45 days. This is 15 times faster than the norm – a process that normally takes up to five years.

AI: leading the charge against coronavirus?

AI is already trusted in the healthcare sector, but is it ready to make this next leap up? One of the main issues with Covid-19 is how new it is. There are so many answers that are still yet to be found. In the first instant, then, surely machine learning is best placed to handle the reams of data filtering in from all corners of the globe.

It has the proven ability to analyse often-complex data sets – especially where a human brain lacks the capacity in the face of so much new information coming to life. This can be extremely useful in forecasting the transmission of the Covid-19. AI can also speed up the job of working through vast libraries of existing drugs to see which, if any, can be used as a treatment.

But AI can also take on an important role outside the actual fight against the coronavirus and perform supporting functions too. It can power the chatbots and apps that health services can use to distribute vital public information. But it can also halt the spread of misinformation too; analysing text and hashtags on social media to uncover the all-too predictable ‘fake’ news.

The future direction of artificial intelligence

Covid-19 and ongoing efforts to contain (and bat away) the pandemic will not be the make-or-break moment for AI. There’s no reason why the evolution of apps and machine learning won’t continue. The current situation, however, does perhaps provide a catalyst from which it moves much further forward than would’ve happened in what we used to know as ‘normal’ conditions.

The frontier that we’re still unlikely to come to any time soon is artificial general intelligence. Then again, you can argue it’s unlikely – but is 2030 too soon a prediction? And is it possible that AI’s role in the battle against coronavirus helps to bring that date closer? Time, as ever, is the factor. And it’ll be a step change far beyond the ‘next big thing’ strapline of any copywriter.

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AI: Can machine learning step up in the fight against Covid-19?
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Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a new concept. The term itself is now more than half a century old.
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