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Artificial Intelligence

The Virus Gives AI a Chance to Prove It Can Be a Force for Good

Governments set aside privacy concerns as they use surveillance software to fight Covid-19.
relates to The Virus Gives AI a Chance to Prove It Can Be a Force for Good
Photographer: Illustration: Maxime Mouysset for Bloomberg Businessweek

In China, doctors use artificial intelligence tools provided by Huawei Technologies Co. to detect signs of Covid-19 in CT scans. In Israel, Tyto Care Ltd. offers in-home medical exams, using AI to deliver clinical-grade data to remote doctors for diagnosis. Chinese tech giant Baidu Inc. devised an algorithm that can analyze the biological structure of the new coronavirus and made it available to scientists working on a vaccine. AI is also behind biometric identification systems being rolled out by governments to track the virus and enforce lockdown efforts, including temperature screening systems deployed throughout Beijing and CCTV cameras hooked up to facial-recognition software in Moscow. “AI is being used to fight the virus on all fronts, from screening and diagnosis to containment and drug development,” says Andy Chun, an adjunct professor at City University of Hong Kong and AI adviser at the Hong Kong Computer Science Society, a nonprofit industry group.

The pandemic is opening up a massive opportunity for the tech industry, while it shines a light on calls for more scrutiny of AI innovations being developed faster than regulators are able to devise rules to protect citizens’ rights. The quick introduction of AI tools to fight the virus is being done in the name of the greater social good, but it raises important questions around accuracy, bias, discrimination, safety, and privacy. Fever detection, facial recognition, and other forms of remote biometric identification technology can collect sensitive data, which can put people at risk if not handled properly.