A whole lot has changed in the past month, and, for once, we’re not talking about innovation and the IoT (Internet of Things). The COVID-19 pandemic is raging in the U.S., and industries are feeling the effect. In the midst of so much uncertainty, can IoT technologies rise to the challenge and help society solve its most pressing challenges, which have changed so drastically in the past several weeks? Can innovative individuals and companies leverage emerging technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) to address issues arising from COVID-19 now, or can they prevent similar situations from unfolding in the future? Can a supercomputer help identify the most effective treatments for COVID-19?
Already, companies and individuals are looking for ways AI can alleviate certain aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak and future pandemics. For instance, Mateon Therapeutics recently announced a partnership with Meridian IT that will leverage AI to fast track pharmaceutical manufacturing, especially with its lead product OT-101, which the company is testing for coronaviruses, including COVID-19. Mateon says the regulatory environment in the pharmaceutical space has largely left it stuck using legacy processes and manual operating procedures. However, be applying AI neural networks to these processes and procedures, solutions like Mateon’s could significantly speed processes up, while other technologies like blockchain could simultaneously help ensure regulatory compliance.
Virtual assistants and chatbots enabled by AI can help address the current crisis, and companies like Orbita are stepping up to the plate to make these technologies available right now. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Orbita released a turnkey COVID-19 education and screening chatbot that healthcare organizations can integrate into their existing websites immediately and for free. The virtual assistant is meant to help support organizations that are facing unprecedented demand for answers and health screenings.
It’s a compelling idea—automating the Q&A process specific to COVID-19 and using the latest data available from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Mayo Clinic. Unlike human employees on the front lines of this pandemic, AI scales and helps remove some of the burden from humans, who can only talk to, respond to, or examine one person at a time. In the future, presumably, this tech, along with telehealth solutions, will be more advanced and accepted, making it easier to provide basic “in place” care during times when social distancing is not only important but mandatory in many states.
In research made available in March by ChemRxiv, a distribution service for preprints in chemistry and other sciences, scientists at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory made use of SUMMIT, a powerful IBM supercomputer, to identify 77 drug compounds that may stop COVID-19 from infecting host cells and rank them according to potential viability. IBM calls SUMMIT the world’s most powerful supercomputer designed for data and AI. Built to “tackle the world’s biggest challenges,” SUMMIT can make 200 quadrillion calculations per second. Researchers created a model of the coronavirus “spike” and used the supercomputer to run thousands of simulations of compounds that could potentially bind to the virus’ spike protein. By identifying 77, this powerful technology has helped scientists take a step toward finding a cure or treatment for COVID-19.
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