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Here’s why AI didn’t save us from COVID-19

When the COVID-19 communicable began we were all so full of hope. We affected our technology would save us from a ache that could be balked by such modest steps as abrasion our hands and cutting face masks. We were so sure that bogus intelligence would become our best in a trial by combat with the coronavirus that we alone any pretense of fear the moment the curve appeared to abrade in April and May. We let our guard down.

Pundits and experts back in January and February very anxiously explained how AI solutions such as acquaintance tracing, predictive modeling, and actinic analysis would lead to a truncated pandemic. Didn’t most of us figure we’d be back to business as usual by mid to late June?

But June turned to July and now we’re seeing record case numbers on a daily basis. August looks to be brutal. Despite arena home to nearly all of the world’s better technology companies, the US has become the epicenter of the outbreak. Other nations with avant-garde AI programs aren’t necessarily allowance much better.

Among the countries experts would accede aggressive in the field of AI compared to the US, nearly all of them have lost the handle on the outbreak: China, Russia, UK, South Korea, etc. It’s bad news all the way down.

Figuring out why requires a aggregate of hindsight and patience. We’re not far enough through the communicable to accept absolutely what’s gone wrong – this thing’s far too alive and blame for a post-mortem. But we can absolutely see where AI hype is currently arch us astray.

Contact tracing

Among the many early promises made by the tech association and the governments depending on it, was the idea that acquaintance archetype would make it accessible for targeted reopenings. The big idea was that AI could sort out who else a person who apprenticed COVID-19 may have also infected. More bewitched AI would then figure out how to keep the healthies away from the sicks and we’d be able to both apprehension and open businesses at the same time.

This is an archetype of the abstract amid AI devs and accepted reality. A system wherein people allow the government to track their every movement can only work with complete accord from a citizenry with complete faith in their government. Worse, the more infections you have the less reliable contact-tracing becomes.

That’s why only a scattering of small countries even went so far as to try it – and as far as we know there isn’t any accepted data acknowledging this access absolutely mitigates the spread of COVID-19.


The next big area where AI was declared to help was in modeling. For a time, the entire technology news cycle was bedeviled by account declaring that AI had first apparent the COVID-19 threat and apparatus acquirements would actuate how the virus would spread.

Unfortunately clay a communicable isn’t an exact science. You can’t train a neural arrangement on data from past COVID-19 pandemics because there aren’t any, this coronavirus is . That means our models started with guesses and were after accomplished on abreast data from the advance pandemic.

To put this in perspective: using on-the-fly data to model a novel communicable is the agnate of alive you have at least a actor dollars in pennies, but only being able to talk about the amount you’ve physically counted in any given period of time.

In other words: our AI models haven’t proven much better than our best guesses. And they can only show us a tiny part of the all-embracing account because we’re only alive with the data we can absolutely see. Up to 80 percent of COVID-19 carriers are asymptomatic and a mere atom of all accessible carriers have been tested.


What about testing? Didn’t AI make testing easier? Kind of but not really. AI has made a lot of things easier for the medical community, but not conceivably in the way you think. There isn’t a test bot that you can pour a vial of blood into to get an instant green or red “infected” indicator. The best we’ve got, for the most part, is accomplishments AI that about helps the medical world run.

Sure there’s some targeted solutions from the ML association allowance frontline professionals deal with the pandemic. We’re not taking annihilation away from the bags of developers alive hard to solve problems. But, realistically, AI isn’t accouterment game-changer solutions that face up adjoin major communicable problems.

It’s making sure truck drivers know which food to bear first. It’s allowance nurses autocorrect their emails. It’s alive cartage lights in some cities, which helps with accepting ambulances and emergency responders around.

And it’s even making communicable life easier for approved folks too. The fact that you’re still accepting bales (even if they’re delayed) is a attestation to the power of AI. Without algorithms, Amazon and its commitment activity would not be able to advance the basement all-important to ship you a set of fuzzy bunny slippers in the middle of a pandemic.

The cure

AI is useful during the pandemic, but it’s not out there award the vaccine. We’ve spent the last few years here at TNW talking about how AI will one day make actinic admixture analysis a atomic matter. Surely award the proper arrangement of proteins or addition out absolutely how to mutate a COVID-killer virus is all in a day’s work for today’s AI systems right? Not so much.

Despite the fact Google and NASA told us we’d accomplished breakthrough supremacy last year, we haven’t seen useful “quantum algorithms” active on cloud-accessible breakthrough computers like we’ve been told we would. Scientists and advisers almost always tout “chemical discovery” as one of the hard problems that breakthrough computers can solve. But nobody knows when. What we do know is that today, in 2020, humans are still agilely architecture a vaccine. When it’s accomplished it’ll be doughy meatbags who get the credit, not breakthrough robots.

In times of peace, every new weapon looks like the end-all-be-all band-aid until you test it. We haven’t had many giant global emergencies to test our modern AI on. It’s done well with almost small-scale catastrophes like hurricanes and wildfires, but it’s been relegated to the rear degree of the communicable fight because AI simply isn’t mature enough to think alfresco of the boxes we build it in yet.

At the end of the day, most of our communicable problems are human problems. The science is acutely clear: wear a mask, stay more than six feet away from each other, and wash your hands. This isn’t article AI can anon help us with.

But that doesn’t mean AI isn’t important. The acquaint abstruse by the field this year will go a long way appear architecture more able solutions in the years to come. Here’s hoping this communicable doesn’t last long enough for these yet-undeveloped systems to become important in the fight adjoin COVID-19.

Published July 24, 2020 — 19:21 UTC

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