The Crucial Role IoT and AI Will Play in a Post COVID-19 Society

The Crucial Role IoT and AI Will Play in a Post COVID-19 Society

By Ludovic F. Rembert, Head of Research at Privacy Canada.

You can’t swing a selfie stick in a crowded room without smacking into someone talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) or Artificial Intelligence (AI).

These two technologies have been front and center in headlines for a few years now and seem to be moving from the “interesting idea” phase into the “wow, that’s actually helpful” phase.

But then along came the COVID-19 pandemic and the world changed beneath everyone’s feet. Before they knew it, governments and healthcare organizations were in the battle of their collective lives trying to understand and contain this scary disease as it spread quickly from ground zero in Wuhan out to the world at large.

The interesting thing to note is that the IoT and AI seem to be custom made to offer a huge helping hand in the fight, as both are inexplicably entwined with the concept of Big Data.

To put it into simple terms, the IoT allows us to collect data quickly and on a vast scale, while AI is the brainpower that analyzes and makes sense of that data faster than any team of humans ever could. How will these technologies apply in a post COVID-19 world?

Keep reading and we’ll tell you our ideas.

Existing IoT Devices Put to Work

The nice thing about how the IoT has developed is that prior to being pressed into service for the COVID fight, the technology had already evolved to the point where many useful devices already existed.

It wasn’t like everything had to be designed from scratch. There were a few adaptations, often related to security and the protection of personal medical records, and then they were ready to go.

Today, IoT companies are teaming up with NGOs and governments by developing new technology solutions that can be used to help fight COVID and provide relief to people and businesses.

These include:

Connected Thermometers: By now, you probably have personal knowledge of how hospitals and stores use scanners to check temperature as people enter. Since fever is one of the fundamental COVID symptoms, this IoT technology allows millions of devices to feed data into a national database that allows for the production of real-time maps showing at a glance where fevers might be spiking. This is invaluable information for getting a jump on a hot spot.

Wearables: Sensors that can be worn by patients and staff allow for the real-time flow of data related to vital signs like the aforementioned temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen, and more. One type of smart wristband records when the person wearing it touches their face, an action determined to be one of the primary means of spreading the disease. Another type of wristband tracks recent arrivals to a country to ensure they are adhering to the home quarantine period.

Accounting: COVID-19 has also greatly affected the way businesses conduct payments and accounting, especially as companies have been forced to transition to virtual collaboration and remote work. Implementing IoT in accounting changes the flow of data because it enables accountants to receive all financial-related knowledge and real-time data digitally. Both of these will enable faster issue assessments and risk analyses, and will further allow businesses to respond to issues much faster than they could otherwise. In the future, it is very likely that business accountants will need to become well-trained in the IoT.

Robots: Remember Rosie, the Jetsons housekeeper robot? It seems that the futuristic cartoon has finally arrived and is helping out immensely with patient care in hospital settings. For example, 5G connected robots have been programmed to deliver food, drinks, and medication to patients. Not only does this reduce time stress for the human staff but also human interaction with COVID sufferers, thereby lessening the risk of disease transfer.

Drones: Having enjoyed fame to date mainly as a vehicle for Amazon’s future delivery army, drones have come into their own as frontline helpers against COVID. Here are a few of the ways they have been deployed:

  • Transporting medical supplies into hot spots without putting more human lives at risk. This method is faster and relieves vehicle congestion on roads.
  • Monitors public gatherings, relaying information to law enforcement when social distancing and maximum occupants limits are exceeded.
  • Used to spray disinfectants in public areas as well as on vehicles traveling into or out of hot spots.

Many of these tasks will be executed with the support of AI technology. Already concerns have been raised about privacy intrusions thanks to the technology’s almost clairvoyant abilities. While it’s good to be concerned, we should keep in mind that AI is also being included in the development of services intended to preserve privacy. In other words, AI advances will always be available to both sides of the equation.

These are just a few of the ways the IoT technology has already aided in the COVID response. With the presence of IoT expanding rapidly and expected to reach 20.4 billion devices by the end of this year, we can expect even more permutations to be rolled out as the pandemic lingers.

Data Analytics on Steroids

AI brings to the table the ability to attack a pile of IoT-collected data, process it, and offer recommendations to be used by human decision-makers.

Thanks to the technology’s learning ability, these recommendations become more targeted and useful over time since the algorithm not only bases its analysis on an ever-growing amount of data but can be coached by humans as to what makes a certain decision better than others given a particular set of circumstances.

Many of the real world ways that AI contributes is by working in conjunction with the IoT devices already mentioned. For example, let’s look at the temperature collection issue. It’s the IoT technology that allows for readings from millions of different devices to be taken from all around the world and fed into a single database. Then AI takes over to analyze and organize the bulk of data into a usable format such as the hot spot maps.

Fast Forward to a Vaccine: Developing a new vaccine from scratch typically takes eighteen months at a minimum, and perhaps even as long as five to ten years. With work beginning in earnest in January of 2020, we wouldn’t normally have a prayer of having a vaccine until the middle of 2021, but these are far from normal times.

With AI help, scientists believe they might be able to shave months off that best case estimate, perhaps delivering the solution by the end of this year. At least part of the credit for this planned success will go to AI and its ability to engage in unimaginably fast and complex data mining of existing research. AI is also expected to be able to suggest drugs that have already been approved that could be modified to ward off COVID.

Final Thought

Though IoT and AI technology have been put to use battling the current pandemic, the task falls to the healthcare industry to communicate to policy and decision makers how critical it is to make funding available to push forward the bounds of what these technologies can do.

They’ve been invaluable so far but both are still only in the infancy of reaching their full potential. When it comes to aiding in the eradication of COVID, the sooner the better.

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