Globally, the coronavirus outbreak now has hit millions of lives with thousands of deaths across the world. As the virus continues to escalate with new cases coming out every day, countries affected with coronavirus are also taking major steps to address this by using advanced technologies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), AI and big data is playing a significant role to control the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the countries that have put intense effort to contain the spread of coronavirus using big data is Taiwan. Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan managed to bravely by the Covid-19. Over 400,000 of its citizens work in mainland China. However, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the country’s use of big data analytics and cellphone tracking helped officials to control the spread of the virus.
Shanghai is also leveraging big data to minimize further risk of the coronavirus spreading. Reportedly, workers in Shanghai report their temperature, travel history, and other information, which was then sent to a big data platform that authorities use to manage epidemic prevention.
At the US-based Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), researchers are using big data and analytics to better comprehend coronavirus from a number of different angles. One component is biomedical research. A lot of work is also going on for developing a vaccine to find out whether any current drugs work against COVID-19, using AI and machine learning to map things about the virus, according to a company blog post.
Several big organizations such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and others have recently offered researchers free access to open datasets and analytics tools to help them develop COVID-19 solutions faster. Google Cloud is offering researchers free access to critical coronavirus information through its COVID-19 Public Dataset Program, which will help accelerate analytics solutions during the global pandemic.
“Developing data-driven models for the spread of this infectious disease is critical,” said Matteo Chinazzi, Associate Research Scientist at Northeastern University. “Our team is working intensively to model and better understand the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak. By making COVID-19 data open and available in BigQuery, researchers and public health officials can better understand, study, and analyze the impact of this disease.”
In a recent AWS big data blog, the company has announced that it has made a public ‘AWS COVID-19 data lake’ available for free to fight this disease. According to their official blog, the ‘AWS COVID-19 data lake’ is a centralized repository of up-to-date and curated datasets on or related to the spread and characteristics of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Smaller companies are also using data-intensive technologies to control the COVID-19 situation. An Indian startup Aiisma rewards users for consensually and anonymously trading their behavioral data via the Aiisma App. The marketplaces’ location sharing and health mapping features can be used for effective contact tracing, which has been the strongest aid in fighting COVID-19 so far. The insights gathered by the Aiisma ecosystem naturally create a digital fence against the COVID-19 spread, supporting citizens and authorities in the fight against the virus.
“In the data economy, we believe the users should reap financial rewards for this contribution and intend to do exactly this,” Ankit Chaudhari, Founder and CEO of Aiisma said.
“A few days before the launch, I discussed with my father, who is a specialist microbiology consultant with the state government and he emphasized the importance of real-time data to fight COVID-19, whilst respecting citizen privacy. This motivated us at Aiisma to expedite the health data feature, which in combination with location sharing will probably become the most used feature of our application over the coming weeks,” he informed.
Companies are finding different innovative ways of reducing the impact of the pandemic. Verizon has for example, introduced a big data coronavirus search engine. It is an open-source program to create a coronavirus academic research searches over 50,000 articles and offers highly relevant information on COVID-19 research. The documents within it are updated weekly as new research papers are published in peer-reviewed publications and archival services like bioRxiv, biological sciences preprints and medRxiv, health science preprints. It also includes document links to Microsoft Academic, and the WHO COVID-19 database of publications, among others.
Making data vulnerable
While the capacity of big data to help curb the coronavirus outbreak is, a work in progress, its risks to privacy are immense. Several studies have shown that location data is particularly vulnerable, since it can be combined with public and private records to create an intricate and revealing map of a person’s movements, associations and activities.
Even as Google and Facebook have said that their initiatives merely disclose aggregated insights into people’s behaviors, not detailed location histories, in times of a data breach, users’ sensitive information has been compromised. While data aggregation may be harmless, it should be accompanied by other safeguards, such as limits such as, who has access to data and for what purpose, deletion requirements, and other conditions. Moreover, data-sharing practices in the technology sector historically have lacked transparency, making it difficult for data subjects and users in general to trust whether these safeguards are stringently enforced or they even exist.
So, AI, big data and other data-driven technologies in the current crisis can improve our understanding of the disease, broaden access to health care, and help us stay connected, but security experts have time and again emphasized that the impulse to harness data for good should not be a license to conduct risky experiments that sacrifice privacy and civil liberties. That’s a lesson one should remember even after the crisis is over. Nonetheless, one cannot deny that with caution, technologies such as AI, big data and machine learning can quickly and effectively analyze data, predict the flow of a pandemic and help humans to figure out the best response to fight against coronavirus and future pandemics.