COVID-19 is driving researchers, scientists, and engineers working for universities, businesses, and governments to reconsider the current limits of data analytics. The global pandemic is spurring innovation in data science across many fields, including healthcare, biomedical research, logistics, and retail. Many of these innovations are open source, further accelerating the pace at which big data impacts the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic.
As artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies become capable of tracing and predicting the path of COVID-19 with increasing accuracy, researchers and developers must continue to weigh the ethical impact of their work. Contact tracing, while effective in limiting the community spread of COVID-19, also brings up valid concerns about digital data security and privacy.
Predictive models powered by AI require data. In the case of COVID-19, much of the data on who the virus is impacting and how is inherently protected (in the US) by HIPPA. Innovative strategies will be required to harness the full potential of AI to combat COVID while still protecting the privacy of individuals affected by the virus.
COVID-19 behaves similarly to other coronaviruses in many ways. This makes past research on treating and preventing these viruses valuable. AI-powered data analysis using NLP makes it possible to find relevant literature from past publications as well as new COVID-19 specific data more quickly.
In order to speed up the time it takes to develop a vaccine, human researchers and AI are working side-by-side on tasks such as molecular modeling of the virus’ proteins and comparing what “we know about the virus to things in pharmacological databases and genomic databases.” Innovations in data science are not only impacting research in labs. They are also helping healthcare professionals on the front lines of the pandemic diagnose and treat already ill patients.
AI’s ability to make predictions based on past data is helping the technology forecast where COVID-19 will spread and how measures designed to slow it down will work. AI allows researchers to construct predictions that consider “population size, population density, age distribution, smoking rates, economic indicators, and nation-wide lockdown dates.” The novelty of the virus requires AI that adapts quickly using new data from social media, news outlets, and other up-to-date sources.
Data-Backed Decision Making
Leaders are faced with tough decisions during any crisis; COVID-19 is no different. Innovations in data science are allowing for a more in-depth analysis of relevant data for faster, data-based decision making. Big data helps decision-makers understand where infections are, who is most vulnerable, how the virus spreads, and more. Not only does this type of data analysis help public health officials and government leaders make informed decisions, but it also guides businesses’ adaptions to the ever-changing situation.