Artificial Intelligence aiding fight against coronavirus

Artificial Intelligence aiding fight against coronavirus
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Operators of thermal imaging technology can see live footage that will highlight likely infected people. (AFP)
Artificial Intelligence aiding fight against coronavirus
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Drones fitted with heat detecting cameras help to spot people who might have the virus. (AFP)
Artificial Intelligence aiding fight against coronavirus
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The data gathered is closely analysed to track patterns of spread that help identify infection hotspots. (AFP)
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Updated 16 April 2020

Artificial Intelligence aiding fight against coronavirus

Artificial Intelligence aiding fight against coronavirus
  • Scientific institutions and governments have already been harnessing AI to generate possible solutions
  • AI is assisting medical professionals to identity components of a vaccine

DUBAI: Four months into the battle against the latest strain of the coronavirus, it is clear that humanity must deploy all medical and technological tools at its disposal.

Roughly half the global population has been placed on lockdown and billions of dollars are being poured into vaccine research, yet the total number of confirmed cases worldwide has hit the two million mark.  

With no sign of an imminent breakthrough, the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to speed up the search for an antidote to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19 is a no-brainer.

In fact, scientific institutions and governments have already been harnessing AI to generate possible solutions to the global public-health emergency.

Shameer Thaha, CSO at Accubits, a UAE-based AI and blockchain focused solutions and development company, says AI is playing a key role since day one of the fight against humanity’s common foe.

AI is assisting medical professionals to identity components of a potential coronavirus vaccine by “analyzing viral protein structures” and helping researchers scan through thousands of research papers, according to Thaha.

Recently, Google DeepMind’s AlphaFold was used to predict structures of proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“There are three types of vaccines: Whole-pathogen vaccines, subunit vaccines, and nucleic acid vaccines,” Thaha said, adding that the last is the kind of vaccine needed to target the coronavirus.

“Nucleic acid vaccines inject the genetic material of the pathogen into human cells to stimulate an immune response …  and AI is useful in accelerating the development of subunit and nucleic acid vaccines,” Thaha said.

Electronic tracking of individuals is another activity that is benefiting from advances in AI in recent years.


(Video supplied by Visory)

Governments and police forces in many cities are utilizing AI-powered video analytics software and computer vision to ensure that people are obeying lockdown rules and maintaining social distance.

These tools can detect everything from large crowds in public spaces to the number of people not wearing a mask, while automatically alerting the local police department to take action, said Thaha.

In this regard, he cited a Pandemic Management System developed by his company, which has contracts with DP World in Dubai and Saudi Aramco in the Kingdom, as an AI tool that is proving useful for authorities.

The system uses AI to conduct exposure analysis of the infection and makes attempts to identity areas at high risk in advance, said Thaha.

He said governments can enlist the help of AI-based systems to contain the spread of the virus by “easily monitoring the location of people in self-isolation or quarantine and tracking routes traveled by newly identified coronavirus positive patients.”

According to Karen K. Burns, co-founder and CEO of Visory, a computer vision AI company with an urban technology focus, various degrees of surveillance methods are being used by countries during the coronavirus crisis.

While some can take part in active monitoring of individuals in quarantine, others can carry out general checks on public places.

“It is still impossible to monitor every single individual at the scale of an entire country,” Burns said, adding that “it is also not desirable from the point of view of privacy.”

Elaborating on the issue, she said: “AI’s key strength, in our view, is utilizing it more as a tool to understand whether or not people are actually doing things like social distancing and staying at home rather than using it for surveillance of individuals.”

For example, many governments are using computer vision to detect how close people are to each other and how long they stay close to each other.

In Europe, according to Burns, AI is being used by governments to predict activities that could cause the coronavirus to spread.

By the same token, face recognition and computer vision are being used to enforce curfews, she said.

One of the clear downsides of the sharp increase in governments’ dependence on AI tools is the possible abuse of information collected from its citizens.

However, until mankind sees at least a glimmer of hope of halting the pandemic, whether privacy protection or public health will receive priority is anybody’s guess.

Expo 2020 gets go-ahead as signature pavilion opens doors

Expo 2020 gets go-ahead as signature pavilion opens doors
Updated 18 January 2021

Expo 2020 gets go-ahead as signature pavilion opens doors

Expo 2020 gets go-ahead as signature pavilion opens doors
  • Terra unveiled as masterclass in design, sustainability and technology

DUBAI: Expo 2020, the long-awaited World Expo hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, originally scheduled for Oct. 20, 2020 through Apr. 10, 2021, is now taking the first steps towards opening to the public, despite rising coronavirus cases around the globe and in the UAE.

On Saturday, Expo 2020’s signature pavilion, Terra, which focuses on sustainability, was unveiled. It will open to the public on Jan. 22 until Apr. 10 as part of the Pavilions Premiere, a limited-time opportunity for visitors to preview Expo 2020’s Thematic Pavilions ahead of their world debut in October 2021. Alif — The Mobility Pavilion and Mission Possible — The Opportunity Pavilion, will follow later in the first quarter of 2021.

Dubai is in a rush to get Expo 2020 up and running after its year-long delay and a pandemic that nearly pummeled its already fragile pre-pandemic economy. The world fair is expected to draw around 25 million visitors to the UAE and spark a multitude of business transactions. It represents billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure to boost international tourism and investment.

Terra features an immense 130-meter-wide canopy covered with 1,055 solar panels that look like flying saucers or a technological rendition of the desert palm tree. The pavilion was designed by UK-based Grimshaw Architects with the aim of achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification — the highest available accreditation for sustainable architecture.

The panels generate 4 gigawatts of alternative energy per year, enough electricity to charge more than 900,000 mobile phones. They rise up from the desert landscape amid the fair’s extensive grounds that cover a total of 438 hectares, and are located in the Dubai South district, near the Al-Maktoum International Airport. The feat is so impressively large that it nearly hides the sight of construction workers busily completing the remainder of the national pavilions.

Terra, which is derived from the Latin word meaning “earth,” cost about $272 million and is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes. It also captures rain in an underground container and will supply all of its own water. The pavilion intends to serve as a catalyst for environmental change in the UAE, the wider Middle East and internationally. The pavilion takes guests on an emotionally charged journey through art, technology, sustainable design and architecture to tell the tale of humanity’s relationship with the planet and how our actions now can serve to mend present-day crises for the greater good.

“We hope that visitors to Terra are suddenly touched by their emotions and realize the beauty of the world around us,” Sustainability Pavilion Director at Expo 2020, John Bull, told Arab News. “We give them information regarding how the planet is under threat and really hope that they will act with love and knowledge and be inspired to come up with solutions to the problems that they face in their daily lives, and bring a greater balance to mankind’s relationship with nature.”

Guests are taken on a playful and emotive journey through the natural world, including an interactive walk through the forest, where visitors will uncover the effects of mankind’s harmful decisions on the planet. There is also a courtyard area where several of the UAE’s leading artists — Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Zainab Al-Hashemi and Mohamed Kazem — exhibit works specially commissioned for Expo 2020 representing aspects of the interaction between mankind and earth.

There is also a children’s playground, gift area and several dining outfits. The experience manages to engage all of the senses and leaves a meaningful message. After the world fair, Terra will remain as science center to inspire future generations to make sustainable choices.

“I think of Terra like a hive of ideas,” added Bull. “It is an opportunity for our visitors to take their energy, excitement and passion that we have hopefully instilled in them and to make pledges about their daily lives and sign up for initiatives here in the UAE and elsewhere in the world.”

Expo 2020 is about human connection, dialogue and the exchange of ideas. Dubai, long a center for trade and commerce in the East, resumes its ancient role through the world fair.

“Our main theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is more important than ever, as we need to work in unison to find solutions to the challenges the world has presented to us,” said Mohamed Al-Ansaari, communications vice president of Expo 2020. “It’s not about being isolated and closing down the borders; it’s now about bringing people together, connecting minds and creating the future.”

During the press conferences, organizers said that the fair always intended to have a digital component, which is especially crucial amid surging coronavirus cases and an uncertain future. Despite this, the opening of the Pavilions Premiere on Saturday featured nothing but optimism and enthusiasm.

“Even before the pandemic hit last year, we always planned for a strong online presence,” said Reem Ebrahim Al-Ashimy, the Expo’s director general and UAE minister of state for international cooperation. “This has proven to be more important now due to the situation that we are in. After months of isolation and uncertainty, this event will serve as an opportunity to motivate human solidarity.”

What will happen to Terra or the Expo after the event has finished? To have such building sites demolished, as is usually the case, can hardly be called a “sustainable” action. Post-Expo, 80 percent of the buildings will be repurposed in District 2020, the integrated “smart city of the future” in Dubai. Al-Ansaari said: “Expo 2020 will live on and continue to connect people and spaces through a smart and sustainable way. Dubai, like its ancient name ‘Al-Wasl,’ which means ‘connector,’ has always been about bringing diverse people together, through trade, ideas and commerce.”