- Artificial intelligence can help address coronavirus – if applied in a creative way.
- It is up to us to identify new and innovative ways to leverage what AI can do.
- Examples include identifying patterns in coronavirus-related research and helping with diagnostics.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to help us tackle the pressing issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not the technology itself, though, that will make the difference but rather the knowledge and creativity of the humans who use it.
Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis will likely expose some of the key shortfalls of AI. Machine learning, the current form of AI, works by identifying patterns in historical training data. When used wisely, AI has the potential to exceed humans not only through speed but also by detecting patterns in that training data that humans have overlooked.
However, AI systems need a lot of data, with relevant examples in that data, in order to find these patterns. Machine learning also implicitly assumes that conditions today are the same as the conditions represented in the training data. In other words, AI systems implicitly assume that what has worked in the past will still work in the future.
What does this have to do with the current crisis? We are facing unprecedented times. Our situation is jarringly different from that of just a few weeks ago. Some of what we need to try today will have never been tried before. Similarly, what has worked in the past may very well not work today.
Humans are not that different from AI in these limitations, which partly explains why our current situation is so daunting. Without previous examples to draw on, we cannot know for sure the best course of action. Our traditional assumptions about cause and effect may no longer hold true.
The human touch
Humans have an advantage over AI, though. We are able to learn lessons from one setting and apply them to novel situations, drawing on our abstract knowledge to make best guesses on what might work or what might happen. AI systems, in contrast, have to learn from scratch whenever the setting or task changes even slightly.