China’s AI Investments Are Paying Off Against Covid-19

March 18, 2020

Artificial Intelligence is a game-changer in medicine. In late 2002, scientists around the world had to wait months before they were able to fully sequence the genome for coronavirus Sars-CoV-2. As of 2020, Chinese scientists, harnessing A.I. was able to sequence the genome for the current coronavirus, published it and shared it with researchers internationally in early January; mere weeks after the first cases of coronavirus popped up in Wuhan.

Since 2002, the Chinese government has been investing heavily in A.I. because of its ability to learn quickly, artificial intelligence has been used for facial recognition, data analytics, language processing, and deep machine learning. These benefits make A.I. the ideal resource to combat Covid-19 and future pandemics.

Image via Pexels

Sequencing the genome for Covid-19 was no easy challenge to overcome. The current coronavirus is a single-stranded RNA virus; similar to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Why is a single-stranded RNA virus a problem? It’s susceptible to mutation, which makes it harder to test.

However, China’s Alibaba A.I. algorithm developed by their research institute, Damo Academy, managed to crack the mutation problem within 30 minutes, according to South China Morning Post. Alibaba’s new algorithm detects the whole genome, rather than the traditional nucleic-acid approach, which only detects part of a genome and is much slower than the newly developed whole-genome detection platform.

Once the detection was accomplished, China is now implementing algorithms to intelligently organize quarantine zones and help create new ones to efficiently combat where possible outbreaks are occurring. This will buy time for A.I. to help develop vaccines by analyzing current drugs in use and matching its effectiveness against Covid-19 as well as completely creating new vaccines.

Feature Image via Asia Times & Smithsonian Magazine

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