Article | May 20, 2021 |
IBM SPSS Statistics provides a powerful suite of data analytics tools which allows you to quickly analyze your data with a simple point-and-click interface and enables you to extract critical insights with ease. During these times of rapid change that demand agility, it is imperative to embrace data driven decision-making to improve business outcomes. Organizations of all kinds have relied on IBM SPSS Statistics for decades to help solve a wide range of business and research problems.
Article | May 20, 2021
We know that data and analytics play a role in everyday products from recommendations on what music we might like to hear to automated re-routing by our GPS system. But how might the power of analytics be brought to bear on a disease that is currently threatening the health and economic welfare of people across the globe?If we rewind the clock to the 1850s, there are two significant examples of how early pioneers in data science made incredible impacts on the world that can provide some insight into what we might see happen next.
Article | May 20, 2021
For many, 2021 has brought hope that they can cautiously start to prepare for a world after Covid. That includes living with the possibility of future pandemics, and starting to reflect on what has been learned from such a brutal shared experience. One of the areas that has come into its own during Covid has been artificial intelligence (AI), a technology that helped bring the pandemic under control, and allow life to continue through lockdowns and other disruptions.
Plenty has been written about how AI has supported many aspects of life at work and home during Covid, from videoconferencing to online food ordering. But the role of AI in preventing Covid causing even more havoc is not necessarily as widely known. Perhaps even more importantly, little has been said about the role AI is likely to play in preparing for, responding to and even preventing future pandemics.
From what we saw in 2020, AI will help prevent global outbreaks of new diseases in three ways: prediction, diagnosis and treatment.
Predicting pandemics is all about tracking data that could be possible early signs that a new disease is spreading in a disturbing way. The kind of data we’re talking about includes public health information about symptoms presenting to hospitals and doctors around the world. There is already plenty of this captured in healthcare systems globally, and is consolidated into datasets such as the Johns Hopkins reports that many of us are familiar with from news briefings.
Firms like Bluedot and Metabiota are part of a growing number of organisations which use AI to track both publicly available and private data and make relevant predictions about public health threats. Both of these received attention in 2020 by reporting the appearance of Covid before it had been officially acknowledged. Boston Children’s Hospital is an example of a healthcare institution doing something similar with their Healthmap resource.
In addition to conventional healthcare data, AI is uniquely able to make use of informal data sources such as social media, news aggregators and discussion forums. This is because of AI techniques such as natural language processing and sentiment analysis. Firms such as Stratifyd use AI to do this in other business settings such as marketing, but also talk publicly about the use of their platform to predict and prevent pandemics. This is an example of so-called augmented intelligence, where AI is used to guide people to noteworthy data patterns, but stops short of deciding what it means, leaving that to human judgement.
Another important part of preventing a pandemic is keeping track of the transmission of disease through populations and geographies. A significant issue in 2020 was difficulty tracing people who had come into contact with infection. There was some success using mobile phones for this, and AI was critical in generating useful knowledge from mobile phone data.
The emphasis of Covid tracing apps in 2020 was keeping track of how the disease had already spread, but future developments are likely to be about predicting future spread patterns from such data. Prediction is a strength of AI, and the principles used to great effect in weather forecasting are similar to those used to model likely pandemic spread.
To prevent future pandemics, it won’t be enough to predict when a disease is spreading rapidly. To make the most of this knowledge, it’s necessary to diagnose and treat cases. One of the greatest early challenges with Covid was the lack of speedy, reliable tests.
For future pandemics, AI is likely to be used to create such tests more quickly than was the case in 2020. Creating a useful test involves modelling a disease’s response to different testing reagents, finding right balance between speed, convenience and accuracy. AI modelling simulates in a computer how individual cells respond to different stimuli, and could be used to perform virtual testing of many different types of test to accelerate how quickly the most promising ones reach laboratory and field trials.
In 2020 there were also several novel uses of AI to diagnose Covid, but there were few national and global mechanisms to deploy these at scale. One example was the use of AI imaging, diagnosing Covid by analysing chest x-rays for features specific to Covid. This would have been especially valuable in places that didn’t have access to lab testing equipment. Another example was using AI to analyse the sound of coughs to identify unique characteristics of a Covid cough.
AI research to systematically investigate innovative diagnosis techniques such as these should result in better planning for alternatives to laboratory testing. Faster and wider rollout of this kind of diagnosis would help control spread of a future disease during the critical period waiting for other tests to be developed or shared. This would be another contribution of AI to preventing a localised outbreak becoming a pandemic.
Historically, vaccination has proven to be an effective tool for dealing with pandemics, and was the long term solution to Covid for most countries. AI was used to accelerate development of Covid vaccines, helping cut the development time from years or decades to months. In principle, the use of AI was similar to that described above for developing diagnostic tests.
Different drug development teams used AI in different ways, but they all relied on mathematical modelling of how the Covid virus would respond to many forms of treatment at a microscopic level.
Much of the vaccine research and modelling focused on the “spike” proteins that allow Covid to attack human cells and enter the body. These are also found in other viruses, and were already the subject of research before the 2020 pandemic. That research allowed scientists to quickly develop AI models to represent the spikes, and simulate the effects of different possible treatments. This was crucial in trialling thousands of possible treatments in computer models, pinpointing the most likely successes for further investigation.
This kind of mathematical simulation using AI continued during drug development, and moved substantial amounts of work from the laboratory to the computer.
This modelling also allowed the impact of Covid mutations on vaccines to be assessed quickly. It is why scientists were reasonably confident of developing variants of vaccines for new Covid mutations in days and weeks rather than months.
As a result of the global effort to develop Covid vaccines, the body of data and knowledge about virus behaviour has grown substantially. This means it should be possible to understand new pathogens even more rapidly than Covid, potentially in hours or days rather than weeks.
AI has also helped create new ways of approaching vaccine development, for example the use of pre-prepared generic vaccines designed to treat viruses from the same family as Covid. Modifying one of these to the specific features of a new virus is much faster than starting from scratch, and AI may even have already simulated exactly such a variation.
AI has been involved in many parts of the fight against Covid, and we now have a much better idea than in 2020 of how to predict, diagnose and treat pandemics, especially similar viruses to Covid. So we can be cautiously optimistic that vaccine development for any future Covid-like viruses will be possible before it becomes a pandemic. Perhaps a trickier question is how well we will be able to respond if the next pandemic is from a virus that is nothing like Covid.
Was Rahman is an expert in the ethics of artificial intelligence, the CEO of AI Prescience and the author of AI and Machine Learning. See more at www.wasrahman.com
Article | May 20, 2021
The coronavirus outbreak in China has grown to a pandemic and is affecting the global health & social and economic dynamics. An ever increasing velocity and scale of analysis — in terms of both processing and access is required to succeed in the face of unimaginable shifts of market; health and social paradigms. The COVID-19 pandemic is accompanied by an Infodemic. With the global Novel Coronavirus pandemic filling headlines, TV news space and social media it can seem as if we are drowning in information and data about the virus. With so much data being pushed at us and shared it can be hard for the general public to know what is correct, what is useful and (unfortunately) what is dangerous. In general, levels of trust in scientists are quite high albeit with differences across countries and regions. A 2019 survey conducted across 140 countries showed that, globally, 72% of the respondents trusted scientists at “high” or “medium” levels. However, the proportion expressing “high” or “medium” levels of trust in science ranged from about 90% in Northern and Western Europe to 68% in South America and 48% in Central Africa (Rabesandratana, 2020).
In times of crisis, like the ongoing spread of COVID-19, both scientific & non-scientific data should be a trusted source for information, analysis and decision making. While global sharing and collaboration of research data has reached unprecedented levels, challenges remain. Trust in at least some of the data is relatively low, and outstanding issues include the lack of specific standards, co-ordination and interoperability, as well as data quality and interpretation. To strengthen the contribution of open science to the COVID-19 response, policy makers need to ensure adequate data governance models, interoperable standards, sustainable data sharing agreements involving public sector, private sector and civil society, incentives for researchers, sustainable infrastructures, human and institutional capabilities and mechanisms for access to data across borders.
The COVID19 data is cited critical for vaccine discovery; planning and forecasting for healthcare set up; emergency systems set up and expected to contribute to policy objectives like higher transparency and accountability, more informed policy debates, better public services, greater citizen engagement, and new business development. This is precisely why the need to have “open data” access to COVID-19 information is critical for humanity to succeed. In global emergencies like the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, open science policies can remove obstacles to the free flow of research data and ideas, and thus accelerate the pace of research critical to combating the disease. UNESCO have set up open access to few data is leading a major role in this direction. Thankfully though, scientists around the world working on COVID-19 are able to work together, share data and findings and hopefully make a difference to the containment, treatment and eventually vaccines for COVID-19.
Science and technology are essential to humanity’s collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the extent to which policymaking is shaped by scientific evidence and by technological possibilities varies across governments and societies, and can often be limited. At the same time, collaborations across science and technology communities have grown in response to the current crisis, holding promise for enhanced cooperation in the future as well.
A prominent example of this is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), launched in 2017 as a partnership between public, private, philanthropic and civil society organizations to accelerate the development of epidemic vaccines. Its ongoing work has cut the expected development time for a COVID-19 vaccine to 12–18 months, and its grants are providing quick funding for some promising early candidates. It is estimated that an investment of USD 2 billion will be needed, with resources being made available from a variety of sources (Yamey, et al., 2020).
The Open COVID Pledge was launched in April 2020 by an international coalition of scientists, lawyers, and technology companies, and calls on authors to make all intellectual property (IP) under their control available, free of charge, and without encumbrances to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, and reduce the impact of the disease. Some notable signatories include Intel, Facebook, Amazon, IBM, Sandia National Laboratories, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Uber, Open Knowledge Foundation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and AT&T. The signatories will offer a specific non-exclusive royalty-free Open COVID license to use IP for the purpose of diagnosing, preventing and treating COVID-19.
Also illustrating the power of open science, online platforms are increasingly facilitating collaborative work of COVID-19 researchers around the world. A few examples include:
1. Research on treatments and vaccines is supported by Elixir, REACTing, CEPI and others.
2. WHO funded research and data organization.
3. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine releases a dataset about the environments that have led to significant clusters of COVID-19 cases,containing more than 250 records with date, location, if the event was indoors or outdoors, and how many individuals became infected. (7/24/20)
4. The European Union Science Hub publishes a report on the concept of data-driven Mobility Functional Areas (MFAs). They demonstrate how mobile data calculated at a European regional scale can be useful for informing policies related to COVID-19 and future outbreaks. (7/16/20)
While clinical, epidemiological and laboratory data about COVID-19 is widely available, including genomic sequencing of the pathogen, a number of challenges remain:
1. All data is not sufficiently findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable (FAIR), or not yet FAIR data.
2. Sources of data tend to be dispersed, even though many pooling initiatives are under way, curation needs to be operated “on the fly”.
3. In addition, many issues arise around the interpretation of data – this can be illustrated by the widely followed epidemiological statistics. Typically, the statistics concern “confirmed cases”, “deaths” and “recoveries”. Each of these items seem to be treated differently in different countries, and are sometimes subject to methodological changes within the same country.
4. Specific standards for COVID-19 data therefore need to be established, and this is one of the priorities of the UK COVID-19 Strategy. A working group within Research Data Alliance has been set up to propose such standards at an international level.
Given the achievements and challenges of open science in the current crisis, lessons from prior experience & from SARS and MARS outbreaks globally can be drawn to assist the design of open science initiatives to address the COVID-19 crisis. The following actions can help to further strengthen open science in support of responses to the COVID-19 crisis:
1. Providing regulatory frameworks that would enable interoperability within the networks of large electronic health records providers, patient mediated exchanges, and peer-to-peer direct exchanges. Data standards need to ensure that data is findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable, including general data standards, as well as specific standards for the pandemic.
2. Working together by public actors, private actors, and civil society to develop and/or clarify a governance framework for the trusted reuse of privately-held research data toward the public interest. This framework should include governance principles, open data policies, trusted data reuse agreements, transparency requirements and safeguards, and accountability mechanisms, including ethical councils, that clearly define duties of care for data accessed in emergency contexts.
3. Securing adequate infrastructure (including data and software repositories, computational infrastructure, and digital collaboration platforms) to allow for recurrent occurrences of emergency situations. This includes a global network of certified trustworthy and interlinked repositories with compatible standards to guarantee the long-term preservation of FAIR COVID-19 data, as well as the preparedness for any future emergencies.
4. Ensuring that adequate human capital and institutional capabilities are in place to manage, create, curate and reuse research data – both in individual institutions and in institutions that act as data aggregators, whose role is real-time curation of data from different sources.
In increasingly knowledge-based societies and economies, data are a key resource. Enhanced access to publicly funded data enables research and innovation, and has far-reaching effects on resource efficiency, productivity and competitiveness, creating benefits for society at large. Yet these benefits must also be balanced against associated risks to privacy, intellectual property, national security and the public interest.
Entities such as UNESCO are helping the open science movement to progress towards establishing norms and standards that will facilitate greater, and more timely, access to scientific research across the world. Independent scientific assessments that inform the work of many United Nations bodies are indicating areas needing urgent action, and international cooperation can help with national capacities to implement them. At the same time, actively engaging with different stakeholders in countries around the dissemination of the findings of such assessments can help in building public trust in science.