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AI versus corona

It’s all hands on deck at the moment to resolve the COVID-19 crisis. Researchers from various disciplines are helping where they can, also from the field of artificial intelligence (AI). AI offers great opportunities both at the frontline of the crisis and in its expected aftermath. Leiden professor Holger Hoos is one of the initiators of the European AI network CLAIRE.

In an open letter to the heads of government of the EU countries, Leiden Professor of Machine Learning Holger Hoos and his colleagues from the CLAIRE initiative provide examples of how AI experts can help fight coronavirus. CLAIRE is the largest European network of AI experts. ‘Take the enormous amounts of health data generated in an intensive care unit. Self-learning algorithms can help doctors make the difficult decisions that sometimes need to be made. Which patient can they expect to recover and who will need more care in the future? This can help doctors be more proactive.’

AI corona
Holger Hoos: ‘We want to help where help is needed most.’

Bring together knowledge and skills

According to Hoos, this doesn’t require complicated computers with lots of computing power, but instead someone who can program quickly and correctly. ‘We want to help where help is needed most. We want to bring together the knowledge of AI experts with people who can apply this knowledge.’ Bringing together knowledge and skills is precisely the goal of CLAIRE.

Better predictions

Alongside helping intensive care doctors, AI could help us better predict the course of the epidemic: by independently learning from what has happened in the past and applying this knowledge to current data. Or by looking for molecules that could be used for medicines or vaccines. ‘This is all happening already, but we think it could be better, hence the initiative to bring people with complementary expertise together in CLAIRE.’

Fighting corona starts with sharing data responsibly

Gathering and distributing patient data can make an important contribution to containing coronavirus. But if we want to succeed, we need better data. With this objective in mind, Leiden data stewards have joined the Virus Outbreak (VODAN). Read their story.

Privacy compromisss

Countries such as China, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have already proven the worth of using AI to fight coronavirus, Hoos and his colleagues write in their open letter. ‘Some AI applications, for instance the use of mobility data, soon cause privacy concerns in Europe because we have a different idea of privacy from in many Asian lands. We respect that of course, but I think that exceptional situations require compromise. We are now greatly limiting people’s civil rights already. And there is quite simply a huge need to protect the weaker members of society. I think that may people would understand that.’

Future economy

And Hoos believes it’s not just about averting this health crisis. ‘This will most certainly be followed by an economic crisis. We will have to deal with an economy that can no longer function as it used to. Some products will be difficult to produce and supply. AI will then be desperately needed to get supplies and logistics back in order. We have long been ready for a more AI-driven economy. For many sectors it’s a matter of installing new software. Let’s do so quickly because we will need het soon.’

Text: Maarten Muns
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