Harpreet Singh Malhotra, Chairman and Managing Director, Tiger Logistics India Limited

Technology cannot prevent the onset of pandemics. However, it can help prevent their spread, educate, warn and empower those on the ground, and noticeably lessen the impact. Today, with converging technologies such as mobile, cloud, analytics, robotics, AI/ML, 4G/5G and high speed internet, it has become possible to adopt several innovative approaches to improve pandemic response.

Due to the lockdown measures imposed by several governments, economic activity has slowed down globally, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has stated that the global economy could witness its worst growth rate since 2009. The OECD has predicted that the growth rate could be as slow as 2.4 per cent, potentially dragging many countries into recession. Further complicating the response to this challenge are the grey areas surrounding the virus itself, in terms of its spread and how to treat it. As research details emerge, the data pool is growing exponentially, and it is beyond the capacity of human intelligence to handle it. AI is useful in identifying patterns from big data and has become one of the ace cards in handling the current crisis.

Advanced AI applications such as natural language processing, speech recognition, data analytics, ML, deep learning, chatbots and facial recognition have been utilised not only for diagnosis but also for contact tracing and vaccine development.

The world is now desperate to find ways to slow the spread of coronavirus and find an effective treatment. Technology is an enabler in this process. AI is playing an important role in suggesting components of a vaccine by understanding viral protein structures, and helping medical researchers scour heaps of relevant research papers at an unprecedented pace. Teams at the Allen Institute for AI and Google DeepMind have created AI tools, and shared data sets and research results of finding drugs.

Further, during a pandemic, clear messaging to the public is critical to ensure that they are informed and remind them about the taking appropriate precautions. Several groups are using trending technologies such as mobile, AI and ML to provide visibility on the outbreak. Microsoft Bing has launched an interactive Covid-19 map to provide widespread disease news. Sixfold has published a free live map of border-crossing times for trucks to enable all of Europe’s supply chains to understand expected delays in receiving shipments. Social platform TikTok has partnered with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help keep its users informed with correct and timely facts, along with a live stream from the WHO where users will be able to ask questions and seek answers. The Taiwan CDC central epidemic command centre (CECC) is combining health data with travel data to build a monitoring system and provide real-time alerts. In India, telecom operators like Jio, BSNL and Airtel are using caller tunes to spread awareness about the pandemic. Drones and autonomous robots were used to fight coronavirus in China. Wireless thermometer guns and other similar infrared body temperature measuring devices have become the most important medical equipment that are being used at checkpoints of offices, airports, hotels, hospitals, train stations, shops, and other public places.

Self-driving cars, drones and robots can all help at this time when the need is to avoid human contact. Autonomous vehicles can be used to transport affected people to and from healthcare facilities with ease, without risking the lives of healthy people. Robots can be used for delivering grocery, cooking means, sterilising hospitals and patrolling the streets. In fact, many new areas and use cases are coming up where drones, robots and autonomous vehicles are being used. Larsen & Toubro is using AI and its digital platforms to support local authorities in 20 cities so that they can monitor the spread of Covid-19 and implement measures to prevent it.

As pandemics or other calamities keep threatening the business world, working from home ensures business continuity and facilitates social distancing. In such a scenario, technologies that enable secure access to data, enterprise applications, virtual meetings, cloud conferencing and virtual/mixed/augmented reality are at the forefront. They ensure that deliverables are not impacted. Remote working is a blessing that comes due to technology and is one of  the greatest solutions for maintaining social distance. While the world continues to grapple with the effects of Covid-19, positives can be drawn from the expertise and bravery of healthcare workers, as well as the complementary efforts of AI technology. As the AI world partners with other sectors for solutions, the light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter, giving the much-needed hope to the world in these uncertain times.