The novel Coronavirus (CoViD-19) pandemic has afflicted 245,916, and killed 10,048 people, all under a span of 3 odd months (as of this writing). Within this short time, countries (and their governments) have been tossed in a state of ‘damage control’ – for you see, no country in this world had seen this coming (USA, for example, had fired their entire Pandemic Response Team, in May of 2018).
Humans forget that history repeats itself – the gross negligence towards Ebola, Swine Flu, Cholera, and the other pandemics of the past, which too came uninvited, had become our greatest undoing. To the devil advocating that “Nobody could’ve seen this coming!” – Well, no human could; but if we were to engineer AI to do exactly that, well then maybe…
Malicious Artificial Intelligence In The 21st Century
The term AI (Artificial Intelligence) gets thrown around by Silicon Valley savants, like Google’s Ian Goodfellow, for instance – who was recently hired by Apple to Engineer AI machines, as the Director of Machine Learning, in the Special Learning Group. Ian Goodfellow piloted the Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), for his PhD thesis in 2014. Long story short, GAN is the basis for generating Deepfake videos; wherein a person’s facial likeness is replaced by someone else’s, to ‘doctor’ fake news, revenge porn, celebrity pornographic fakes, and hoaxes, among other such unimaginable malicious uses.
This is merely a microcosm of the potential that professionals have been able to engineer AI bots for, ever since the big Artificial Intelligence boom of the 2010’s. Ian Goodfellow might never have intended for his admittedly revolutionary software, to be used for malicious purposes – yet, here we are!
Voice mimicking AI are bleeding corporations worth hundreds of millions in wire fraud, as observed by Vijay Balasubramanian (CEO of Pindrop, an American security company dealing in tele-frauds), who said of the voice-deepfakes - “we’ve seen only a handful of cases, but the amount of money stolen can reach as high as $17 million individually”.
Besides a couple of these offshoot cases historically, AI has been overwhelmingly used for benevolence, rather than malevolence.
Coronavirus: Through The Lens Of AI
The oldest of adages, often referenced with respect to medicine and healthcare, is that “Prevention is better than cure” –a reminder that bears woeful repeating, belittling the very preaching it dispenses in the process. This, and the aforementioned, “those who forget history, are doomed to repeat it” – are constant reminders that humans tend to forget, but an AI never does.
From a bird’s eye view, AI is but a miniscule facet of the entire discipline. Machine Learning, is arguably the larger subset – A field of science established in 1955, when it was considered synonymous with robotics. However, nowadays, the conversation has shifted from humanoid cyborgs, to ethereal entities.
Machine Learning is the study of Algorithms and Statistical Models. A Computer is programmed to rely on patterns and interference, to build a mathematical model, rooted in “training data” (or sample data). Artificial Intelligence is the even smaller subset, which aims to simulate human behaviour into machine intelligence – scientists have been able engineer AI everywhere, from cybersecurity, and automobiles, to video games, and healthcare, among others. By 2025, nearly all spheres of industries will be AI-powered, in some shape or form.
This past Monday, the White House announced that they would partner with tech companies, and AI professionals, in an effort to fortify research on the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. This will be achieved through algorithms, based in research, fuelled by an avalanche of data, from a generation of reference papers, and searching patterns - This is reparative, rather than preventive, however.
In another case, amateurs were able to engineer AI trackers for the coronavirus that drew in from reported cases of medical records – from within the media, newspapers, self-reports, and Facebook posts. Although this too was reparative, the call to action was faster than any government agency till that point (Microsoft engineered a similar AI tracker – nearly an entire month later!).
Coronavirus: A Measured, Human Response
The COrona VIrus Disease of 2019 (Covid-19) is an infectious disease, caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus. Its escalation from a passing outbreak, to a pandemic, escalated within a matter of two months. For reference, The Black Death, which killed ~200 million people, manifested within a 7 year period, reaching current numbers by the 11th month. Humans, for all our advances as a society, simply aren’t equipped to be this prepared.
By March, 2020, the novel coronavirus had spread to nearly every major developed country in existence. Italy, being the hardest hit, lost more souls than China – a staggering 3,405 (and counting), to China’s 3,248. The coronavirus pandemic reached a >2% fatality rate, shaking the foundations of medical science, and putting their advancements into perspective. Modern medicine fell short, the governments fell short – moreover, humanity fell short!
Can You Engineer AI Bots To Combat A Pandemic?
Yes, absolutely! Although, the devil does lie in the details –
Earlier this week, UK officials upheld the decision to engineer AI, which would take the roles of those people, who had to miss work because of the Coronavirus pandemic. China proposed surveillance measures to track the spread of the contagion, by scanning crowded populations for citizens who were found coughing and sneezing. Scientists in Toronto were able to engineer AI that developed an anti-biotic, more powerful than what a human could.
Measures like these and more have come to light during the fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. These were latent until a catastrophe brought them to the limelight. Necessity is the mother of invention – another adage that hits the crises home, and really puts things into perspective.
That being said, Artificial Intelligence can not only be used for reparative measures, but for prophecy as well. On 30th December, 2019: an AI-powered algorithm called Bluedot, eerily detected the possibility of an outbreak out of Wuhan, China. The team engineering Bluedot, received a notification about an “unexplained phenomenon” coming out of Wuhan. The AI was quick to sound an alarm on this, as a possible “Health Risk”. This was largely ignored until the next few weeks, when the pandemic did start unfolding.
This goes on to show that, although humans lack the fortitude to track every possible case scenario under the sun, their machine assistants can actually do exactly that. Humans can definitely Engineer AI machines that will aid them to run a well-oiled, functioning operation. The AI will deliver always – but that is subject to what its human masters direct it towards.