Over the past few months, I have heard many times, that this crisis is very similar to that of 1918. Perhaps the effects of the virus are similar, but now we have much more medical and technological knowledge, we are in what we have come to call the data age.
If we look at the national perspective, I cannot feel more proud of the solidarity in each and every one of the places in Spain, the capacities of many people delivered in a solidary and disinterested way, to solve. In addition, the speed with which many large and small companies such as Telefónica, Ferrovial, Sngular, IBM, Santander, Forcemanager, Carto, Medesaltaren, Google, Sherpai… and many others, which together with each of the autonomous communities have put their professional staff and technological resources into the development of apps that currently contribute or will contribute to improving the situation.
If we leave aside the tracking application led by Google and Apple, and make an analysis of the applications so far, we can see that they could be classified into two large groups: based on rules focused on the diagnosis and those supported by key data to predict through different variables, the probability of suffering the disease or ending up in the ICU.
CoronaMadrid, Stopcovid19Cat and AsistenciaCovid-19 are some of the examples of the first type that have been applied in the different autonomous communities, and that are intended to diagnose whether a possible individual has the symptoms and therefore should go to a hospital. These applications have helped, in a simple way, to rapidly reduce telephone saturation in which the avalanche of calls made it impossible to attend all of them, and this in turn meant greater saturation of the emergency departments, when in many cases it was not necessary.
Along the same lines, but somewhat more advanced by taking advantage of the capabilities of virtual assistants, Salud responde. The assistant responds to questions related to symptoms, quarantine or recommendations in case of contagion or suspected contagion of the disease. This assistant started working at the end of March, is available 24 hours a day and has had nearly 15,000 conversations in its first days of launch. Once again, technology has made it possible to provide a better service to citizens in this complex situation.
A new line of applications are those that are trying to take advantage of the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence as far as prediction is concerned. One of them is a development for mobiles, “coughvid“, which will use Artificial Intelligence and by recording different coughs, will be able to know whether a person is suffering from a coronavirus or not. This will not replace a medical test, but it does promise 70% accuracy, which can be used to predict whether a person has a coronavirus or not.
Among these applications is also the one developed by sherpa.ai together with the Basque government, which wants to go one step further, developing a platform that recognizes patterns and trends of the virus, detecting trends of infection and future outbreaks. Additionally, it is also capable of predicting the future needs of the ICUs and is able to do so 7 days in advance, thus allowing the alignment of resources in a planned manner. Thanks to their efforts they have achieved in three weeks what would take months under normal conditions.
Today in 2020, in what we call the data age, it seems paradoxical that we are not able to have such data at the country level, or at the European or global level. Leaving aside privacy, because we are talking about anonymized data, it would be very necessary to get that “big clinical data” so that researchers, scientists and doctors around the world could advance in the investigation of the pandemic and use Artificial Intelligence as an essential tool.
The availability of European “big data” that can be used by multiple sectors, in this case the health sector, is the key, as the European Strategy on Artificial Intelligence already mentions. There are already many private initiatives in this area, such as that of H&M hospitals which have just donated 2157 anonymized covid-19 medical records, but this needs to happen at a country and European level. Perhaps covid-19 will make the most rapid advance of these initiatives, and once again we can use technology to help people, in this case, to save lives.