How AI Failed us during the Covid-19 Outbreak of 2020

On the cusp of artificial intelligence revolutizationg healthcare in the decades ahead, AI’s role during the pandemic was striking. Even how countries used Big Data and apps to contact trace was slow, ponderous and with a few possible exceptions, a total failure.

AI has huge potential, but right now scientists are turning to tried and tested technologies, including relying on better treatments, vaccines and making it a big business. The novel coronavirus was identified and sequenced as early as December, but somehow along the lines technology failed humanity in combating the spread of the virus.

The constant hype of AI accompanies all those trends articles and a lot of marketing stunts from companies doing pretty unlawful things with our personal data. Hype around artificial intelligence is under the scanner as the technology has not made a big impact in the fight against COVID-19. Do you ever wonder why?

As I write this there’s been over 1 million global deaths, and the 2nd Wave is likely to impact millions more people. Looking at the US alone, for the past 50 years, innovation is almost synonymous with the free market. But innovation in AI is not being applied to good causes as you might expect, and that’s a problem.

While several Asian countries effectively used technology to deal with the pandemic, most of Europe, America, South America failed stupendously. It was not just a failure of politicians, health teams and societies, but the technologies employed and the action of quick innovation.

While we leverage AI to make huge profits in digital advertising or the Cloud, a lot of AI is not directly benefiting people. The lack of AI as a major role in helping humanity during the pandemic is a huge wake-up call for the business world.

Health not just profits or the military, needs to be a greater priority. Business and political leaders must help steer AI in a more ethical direction. This also means greater diversity and inclusion at the highest levels of leadership.

Lockdown of places have helped slow the community spread of the virus, but today, the consumer-driven economy is taking a huge hit. AI was not even used or present, when we needed it most. How could this be? Was it by design, negligence, or another reason? Nobody is asking the right questions.

It should have been artificial intelligence’s moment in the sun. With billions of dollars of investment in recent years, AI has been touted as a solution to every conceivable problem. How have AI and algorithms become such a big part of our lives, yet so entirely unhelpful when we need her help the most?

Crowd sharing of data needs to improve, collaboration on a global scale needs to be more efficient. AI can help mobilize humanity for the next pandemic. Though make no mistake, AI has failed to empower us during this health crisis.

COVID-19 has reminded us of just how quickly humans can adapt existing knowledge, skills and behaviours to entirely new situations, a domain you’d have imaged that would be improved furthermore by AI.

The lack of transparency, the inability of an older generation of leaders to understand how to leverage AI and the mass confusion of how to use technology for contact tracing early enough gave way to complete chaos in how countries like America, Brazil, U.K., France, Mexico and India handled the crisis.

Let’s call it what it is, the inability to act in a rational way. The same cannot be said for smaller countries like Taiwan, Singapore, New Zealand or South Korea.

Reliable AI depends on our human ability to collect data and make sense of it. The pandemic has been a case study in why that’s hard to do mid-crisis. Policy makers and the WHO failed to leverage AI in any coherent way in most countries.

Global leaders should not be over 60 if they don’t understand the hybrid AI-human leadership that needs to occur for the smoothest handling of emergencies. Donald Trump at times feels like a 1950s commercial, not the best thing for leadership ready to embrace AI for the good of all.

AI has to be a tool for good. Silicon Valley didn’t leverage AI very well to help either. Consider the shifting advice on mask wearing and on taking ibuprofen, the doctors wrestling with who should get a ventilator and when showed a parade of human fallacies that didn’t just not use AI, they didn’t even follow the science.

AI doesn’t lag a step behind us, we inhibit it by not understanding its optimal role and creating the right incentives for AI to truly be leveraged in our healthcare and government to make rapid and right decisions most people cannot make. How we operationalize AI is lacking. Our leaders don’t understand how artificial intelligence could be used in the grand scheme of things.

Even more basic technology was lacking. In the United States there were several attempts to use aggregate data from electronic health records. Most of the data that was being shared for the first three months was literally just case counts and death counts. You need rapid access to high-quality data, not just Covid numbers. Most countries had no clue how to leverage AI to the crisis.

An algorithm could mine lots of patient records and determine who is more at risk of dying and who is more likely to survive, turning anecdotes whispered between doctors into treatment plans. So much more is possible when AI is more mature in healthcare, and we felt its potential and it’s horrible shortfalls when we needed it the most!

AI has been turned instead on humanity’s dark side. It fuels greed, corruption, advertising and manipulation of how we participate online together. This is not right, AI that leverages people into products is sick. America is sick in its approach to AI. For now, though, we can’t be surprised that AI hasn’t saved us from this one.

We have to question how humans and AI can work better in the future to help solve the variety of challenges we together must face if we wish to thrive as a species; if we wish to even survive.

The business emphasis of monetizing AI needs to give way to more appropriate ways for AI to help regulate AI itself, science and politics, capitalism and the values that must govern technological progress moving forwards.

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