Here’s why AI didn’t save us from COVID-19
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We’re not far enough through the COVID-19 pandemic to understand exactly what’s gone wrong – this thing’s far too alive and kicking for a post-mortem. But we can certainly see where Artificial Intelligence hype is currently leading us astray.

1. Contact tracing

The big idea was that AI could sort out who else a person who contracted COVID-19 may have also infected.

This is an example of the disconnect between AI devs and general reality. A system wherein people allow the government to track their every movement can only work with complete participation. Worse, the more infections you have the less reliable contact-tracing becomes.

That’s why only a handful of small countries even went so far as to try it.

2. Modeling

For a time, the entire technology news cycle was dominated by headlines declaring that AI had first discovered the COVID-19 threat and machine learning would determine exactly how the virus would spread.

Unfortunately modeling a pandemic isn’t an exact science. The models started with guesses and were subsequently trained on up-to-date data from the unfolding pandemic.

3. Testing

AI has made a lot of things easier for the medical community, but not perhaps in the way you think. There isn’t a test bot that you can pour a vial of blood into to get an instant green or red “infected” indicator. The best we’ve got, for the most part, is background AI that generally helps the medical world run.

4. The cure

Surely finding the proper sequence of proteins or figuring out exactly how to mutate a COVID-killer virus is all in a day’s work for today’s AI systems right? Not so much.

Scientists and researchers almost always tout “chemical discovery” as one of the hard problems that quantum computers can solve. But nobody knows when. What we do know is that today, in 2020, humans are still painstakingly building a vaccine.

At the end of the day, most of our pandemic problems are human problems. The science is extremely clear: wear a mask, stay more than six feet away from each other, and wash your hands. This isn’t something AI can directly help us with.

But that doesn’t mean AI isn’t important. The lessons learned by the field this year will go a long way towards building more effective solutions in the years to come.

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