How AI and machine learning are used in the fight against COVID-19


Author – Rajat Mathew


On December 30, 2019, BlueDot, a Toronto based digital health firm, alerted its clients about a cluster of “unusual pneumonia” cases around Wuhan, China. It was only nine days later, that the World Health Organization officially announced the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

The virus has since spread to over 188 countries, infected more than 10 million people worldwide, and has caused over 521K deaths worldwide, as of today.

But how was BlueDot able to identify the emergence of such a disastrous pandemic even before the Chinese government and WHO did?. The BlueDot platform harnesses the power of Big Data analytics to extract data from hundreds of thousands of sources, including statements from official public health organizations, digital media, global airline ticketing data, livestock health reports, and population demographics. Machine learning and Natural Language Processing algorithms analyze the data multiple times a day to derive patterns and insights which help to identify potential threats as early as possible.

Besides alerting its clients about the emergence of the novel coronavirus, BlueDot was able to correctly identify the areas to which the virus might spread, using global airline ticketing data. BlueDot came up with a list of cities to which the disease might spread quickly, which included Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, and Singapore. The predictions were spot on! The 11 cities at the top of their list were the first places to report COVID-19 cases initially.

BlueDot had previously earned global attention with its successful predictions about the Zika virus and Ebola virus. Kamran Khan, founder and CEO of BlueDot and professor of medicine and public health at the University of Toronto said during an interview, “One of the challenges is not just that we are seeing the emergence of new diseases at a pace we’ve never seen before but that we are spreading those diseases around incredibly quickly. Each year, about 4 billion people board commercial flights and travel almost seven trillion kilometres around the globe. That’s about 20,000 round trips to and from the sun. Obviously, we need better technology if we were going to keep up with the accelerating spread of diseases.”

The role of AI during these difficult times is far more than just the early prediction of the disease. From massive communication to crop-monitoring and supply chains to ensure food delivery to everyone, AI is the underlying driving force that helps governments and organizations to operate effectively to meet people’s needs. For eg.,, a French startup launched a chatbot to provide accurate real-time information to users and assess COVID-19 symptoms and answer questions about government policies.

AI and machine learning certainly plays a key role in our fight against the coronavirus and will help us navigate such disasters in the future.


Rajat Mathew

St. Joseph’s College of Engineering and technology,Palai

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