As the novel coronavirus has reminded us, preventing a pandemic is a race between the spread of the disease and efforts to develop an effective vaccine. Even a disease such as the one that is now ravaging parts of China, with about a two percent fatality rate, could potentially kill millions if not contained in time. Think about the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 20 million people worldwide before it burned itself out.
ZME Science suggests that AI will play an increasing role in identifying and tracking the progress of diseases such as coronavirus, the better to contain the spread while researchers create a vaccine.
This would work by having public health officials input into an AI system information such as population of afflicted areas, with information on travel to and from the epicenter of the outbreak. Thus, officials can rapidly move to contain the disease by closing off the affected area and identifying people who have been inside it before traveling elsewhere so that they can be quarantined and, if necessary, treated. Such a system would be of vast importance for a disease such as coronavirus, the infected of which are asymptomatic for weeks while potentially spreading the sickness.
An AI system can also track public attitudes about a potential pandemic and provide education where needed. Fear and panic of an outbreak can occur even among people who are at low risk of being infected. An AI system can identify anyone who needs to be educated about the disease, including measures that should be taken to prevent catching the disease and ascertaining whether one has been infected and what to do about it.
Finally, AI systems can be used to help develop drugs to deal with an epidemic such as coronavirus. Such a system can track which medications are working and which are not. It can even track whether a disease is starting to develop a resistance to medications and allow researchers to adjust accordingly.