How AI technology could help us prepare for a future pandemic

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Artificial Intelligence

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact on the world as we know it.

Globally, we have seen COVID-19 push healthcare systems to their limits and researchers to rapidly search for solutions not only against this virus but also to the question of how we prepare for a future pandemic.

Such preparations will require a collaborative and well-coordinated approach from politicians, leading healthcare professionals, and companies, and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology could be central to these plans.

The potential of AI

I was very early in investing in both the healthcare and biotech sectors, particularly focusing on early-stage companies looking to utilise the latest advancements in AI to make much-needed breakthroughs in their fields.  I have been fortunate to see first-hand how AI, applied in the right way and working hand-in-hand with leading scientists and organisations, can play an increasingly important role in the future of disease control.

From predictive care to precision health testing, many clinicians and hospitals across the world are already using AI to improve day-to-day medical care. AI has become increasingly sophisticated and efficient, and a new wave of investment and research in the wake of COVID-19 could spur even more innovation in this area.

We have seen how tech companies, universities, and researchers are stepping up to apply AI technology to this Covid-19 pandemic response and this work will stand us in good stead to prepare for a similar outbreak in the future.  For example, Microsoft recently re-affirmed its support to the Digital Transformation Institute which is jointly managed and hosted by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The Institute aims to bring together scientists, academics, and private companies to explore AI techniques to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Aside from the technology giants and large educational and research institutions, smaller start-ups also have a crucial role to play in developing this AI technology to help preparation for the next pandemic.  For example, I sit on the board of Paris-based OWKIN which harnesses the power of AI for medical research to develop faster, safer, and more effective medicines and treatments for patients.

A note of caution

Although the potential benefits are immense, we must be cautious, especially regarding patient confidentiality.  Unfortunately, we have seen examples of illegal and unethical selling of healthcare data in the pharmaceutical industry.  It is essential that ethical concerns in the face of rapidly changing technology must never be set aside; a patient’s right to privacy, anonymity, and control of the medical and person data is paramount to any advancement in AI.

Governments and regulatory experts must work together to ensure that the appropriate frameworks and safeguards are in place, and are under constant review to keep up with rapidly-developing technology, to ensure our ethical values are not compromised.

We must learn all the lessons we can from the fight against COVID-19 to protect our interconnected world in the future, in particular how AI technology can be correctly and ethically applied to any potential future threat, as the technology certainly has the power to drive forward our global efforts to map, test, contain, and prevent future pandemics.

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How AI technology could help us prepare for a future pandemic

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