The astronomical rates of transmission and a lack of a sure cure for COVID-19 till now has been reason enough for global leaders and citizens to have grave concerns. With the promise of a slew of vaccines, this panic has been somewhat assuaged but extreme caution is still the order of the day.
To their credit, many countries were quick to realise technology’s potential in effectively managing the impact of the virus. Tech giants across the globe supported governments by launching AI-powered solutions and applications to help citizens control risk.
Solutions had to be created under extreme pressure and absurdly tight timelines, leading to phenomenal creativity. Here are some of the significant ways in which technology has and can help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic:
Using AI to Identify, Track and Forecast Outbreaks
AI-based solutions have been designed to detect an outbreak with the premise that the better one can track the virus, the better chances of dealing with it. Such solutions can detect an outbreak by analysing news reports, social media platforms and government platforms.
Canadian startup BlueDot’s, San Francisco’s Metabiota, and Boston’s health map are few examples where the power of AI was harnessed to warn people of the threat days before the WHO issued its public warnings.
Liberty and Passage by Access Anywhere is a prime example of this technological application. Developed by Access Anywhere, it is a total outbreak management system that combines a plethora of cutting-edge technologies on a single platform. Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations and the entire travel industry.
Extremely versatile, it can be deployed across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. Its ease of use, flexibility and scalability means it can be a significant tool for organisations in almost any sector to restart their business safely.
Using AI to Help Diagnose the Virus
Infervision, an AI company had launched a coronavirus AI solution that helps front line healthcare workers detect and monitor the disease efficiently. It also has the capacity to improve the speed of a CT diagnosis. Alibaba has built an AI-powered diagnosis system, which is 96% accurate in diagnosing the virus in seconds.
Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies
Drone delivery is considered the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies during a disease outbreak. For example, Terra Drones is using their unmanned aerial vehicles to transport medical samples and quarantine material with minimal risk. Additionally, drones are being used to patrol public spaces and track non-compliance of quarantine mandates.
Using Chatbots To Share Information
Chatbots are an effective way for people to get specific information and advice. For instance, Tencent operates WeChat, where people can access free online health consultation services. Similarly, the travel and tourism sector has immensely benefited from the use of chatbots.
Using AI to Identify Infected Individuals
As the COVID-19 virus transitioned from an outbreak to a full-on pandemic, China’s sophisticated surveillance system used facial recognition technology and temperature detection software from SenseTime to identify people who have developed a fever and were likely to have been infected by the virus.
Technological innovations like ‘Smart Helmets’ are also being used by officials in Sichuan province to identify people with raised temperatures. Additionally, the Chinese Government’s monitoring system, Health Code, uses big data to identify and assess the risk of each individual based on their travel history.
Innovation in technology is helping to mitigate the impact of the current pandemic by keeping people informed and abreast with the latest developments and encouraging them to take all the necessary precautions.
With the discovery of the new COVID-19 strain and experts declaring the pandemic to be a recurring feature in the future one can only see technologies like AI and Machine learning playing a pertinent role in keeping people and organisations up and running.
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the creation of a US$ 20 million Artificial Intelligence (AI) research institute led by faculty from three top universities in the U.S. The new institute, the AI Institute for Dynamic Systems, will focus on developing new machine learning ideas and techniques, with the team exploring new ways to use AI to integrate physics-based modelling to accelerate scientific discovery.
For decades, scientists and engineers have toiled to accelerate AI development. Now AI will return the favour by helping accelerate scientific discovery itself. The AI Institute is one of 11 new NSF-funded centres that are part of a larger $220 million investment in AI and AI-enabled research.
The Institute’s goal is to integrate AI and machine learning with physics-based models to tackle some of the biggest challenges in science and engineering, such as materials discovery. The researchers want to use AI to help scientists and engineers speed up their work. Businesses use AI primarily for prediction; scientists use AI for gaining insight.
There is tremendous potential for AI within the scientific process: helping scientists to choose what and how to measure, discovering new relationships in measured data, and understanding and explaining these discoveries.
Scientific discovery is one part of the Institute’s mission; it will also focus on developing more powerful AI tools to do this work, including the use of AI to build better AI. Engineers like to invent systems to solve problems. They are now faced with the ultimate challenge to create a system that can itself invent solutions automatically.
The Institute will also focus on training future researchers in AI techniques. Examples include partnering with high school programs that focus on AI-related projects and recruiting and preparing recent college graduates from underrepresented groups, U.S. veterans and first-generation college students to go on for a graduate degree. The institute will provide massive open-source educational materials that include lectures, data and code packages for advancing and empowering AI.
The researchers are so excited to bring together a critical mass of amazing and innovative researchers from across the U.S. to really move the needle in developing machine learning technology for physical and engineering dynamic systems. They also have a deep connection with industry partners, which provides them with an incredible opportunity to make sure that we are focused on important and relevant problems and that their technology will actually be used.
The new NSF National AI Research Institutes are hubs for academia, industry and government to accelerate discovery and innovation in AI. Inspiring talent and ideas everywhere in this important area will lead to new capabilities that improve our lives from medicine to entertainment to transportation and cybersecurity and position us in the vanguard of competitiveness and prosperity.
AI is being integrated into every industry and every discipline, including journalism, nursing, or nutrition. From retail to real estate, AI is going to be a part of every industry’s future, and everyone needs to be prepared. As reported by OpenGov Asia, U.S. researchers have built a high-fidelity simulation environment that is designed for developing algorithms that improve causal discovery and counterfactual reasoning of AI.
The researchers illustrated a problem by making an analogy of AI in a different context. If a self-driving car were confined to the streets of a neighbourhood in Arizona with few pedestrians, wide, flat roads and street signs with English writing, and then they deployed the car on the narrow, busy streets of Delhi, where street signs are written in Hindi, pattern recognition would be insufficient to operate safely.
The recent paper took a closer look at this problem and the researchers proposed a new high-fidelity simulation environment. They designed a high-fidelity simulation with the ability to control causal structure. A more robust AI model does more than simply learning patterns. It captures the causal relationships between events.
Home broadband penetration in the Philippines has always been low, owing to the mobile platform’s dominance, which accounts for 97% of the total internet users in the country according to a report. The pandemic, on the other hand, prompted Filipinos to switch from mobile to home broadband for their internet needs, as demand for faster connectivity increased to support work, learning, and entertainment in the home increases.
Three months after an order issued by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) allowing telecom companies to construct infrastructure projects within the allowable right-of-way limits of national roads, the Philippines’ internet provider saw an improvement in its efforts to fibrise more homes and businesses.
The order has bolstered the company’s bid to extend fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) lines to more households in strategic areas across the country. Since the third week of March this year, the internet provider has been able to install FTTH lines, which are supplemented by 96 DWPH permits. The right-of-way order also enabled fiberisation to support Mobile Builds from 39 DPWH permits.
“The support of DPWH, and the government in general, will really allow us to decongest demand for internet connectivity in the highly-urbanised areas in the country. This will help us fast-track laying out our fibre cables to more households that are now more dependent on having reliable, fast, and accessible internet,” said the company’s Vice President for Programme Delivery, Network Technical Group.
The new Department Order No. 29, also known as the “DPWH Policy on Telecommunications and Internet Infrastructure Pursuant to Republic Act (RA) No. 11494,” relaxes previous right-of-way prohibitions, particularly on the construction of posts, by allowing excavations and restoration work for ICT infrastructure projects along with allowable right-of-way limits of national roads and highways. With the removal of such a major bottleneck, the company anticipates that site inspection and approval will be completed in a matter of days, rather than several weeks or even months in the past.
“This will make it faster for the company to bring high-speed broadband services to more homes and businesses through Fibre-to-the-Homes (FTTH) this year. We are confident we will hit our target of making one million fibre lines available this year,” he then added.
The order issued by the DPWH is in accordance with Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2, which streamline the requirements for obtaining permits from local government units and national government agencies for the installation of new cell towers.
OpenGov Asia reported that the business conglomerate’s CEO for ICT asserted that the tower activated by the telecommunication company was a Rapid Deployment Station (RDS) Telecom Tower in Valenzuela City offering a faster set-up structure that incorporates the tower body, fencing and foundation all in one. These structures can be deployed and dismantled in a matter of days, eliminating the need for extensive excavation and foundation construction.
The company has spent the majority of its P70 billion capital expenditure budget on data network construction to provide Filipinos with world-class internet connectivity. Furthermore, the internet service provider strongly supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), particularly UN SDG No. 9, which emphasises the importance of infrastructure and innovation as key drivers of economic growth and development.
As mobility restrictions are imposed to control the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), an increasing number of the OECD’s estimated 1.3 billion citizens are working and studying from home, and critical international policy coordination is now taking place online. Fixed and mobile broadband operators, content and cloud providers, and points where Internet networks connect to each other to exchange traffic, known as Internet exchange points (IXPs), are experiencing up to 60% more Internet traffic than before the outbreak. In this unprecedented situation, the resilience and capability of broadband networks have become even more critical.
China aims to improve the evaluation system for scientific and technological achievements and accelerate their transformation into real productive forces. The quality of scientific and technological innovation, their achievements in applied technology, and their contributions to economic and social development should be the core of the evaluation.
The scientific, technological, economic, social and cultural value of scientific and technological achievements should be evaluated comprehensively and accurately, especially their multiple applications. A classified evaluation system should be improved.
For basic research results, peer review should be the major evaluation method, while applied research results should mainly be evaluated by industry users and social forces, with high-quality intellectual property output, new technology, new materials, new processes, new products and performance of new equipment’s prototype as main evaluation indicators.
A national scientific and technological achievements library should be established so that scientific and technological achievements promotion lists can be formulated according to different application needs. Scientific and technological achievements that are not confidential or supported by financial funds will be made public in accordance with regulations.
Efforts should be made to improve the system for disclosing job-related scientific and technological achievements in colleges and universities, and scientific research institutions. A patent evaluation system should be established before an application is filed.
Market-oriented evaluation of scientific and technological achievements should be developed. Measures should be taken to improve the linkage mechanism between the evaluation of scientific and technological achievements and financial institutions and investment companies. Relevant financial institutions and investment companies should be guided to conduct a commercial evaluation for any potential economic value, market assessment and prospects for the development of scientific and technological achievements.
Industry associations, research societies, professional evaluation institutions and others should be guided to play their role in the evaluation of scientific and technological achievements. Related departments, local governments and industries should join to establish an information service platform for the evaluation of scientific and technological achievements.
Reward systems for scientific and technological achievements should be improved, with appropriate quantities and higher quality of rewards. National science and technology awards should be closely integrated with the country’s major strategies, and rewards for basic research and applied basic research results will be increased. Harmful trends in scientific and technological achievements evaluation, such as valuing quantity over quality and contributions, must be fully corrected.
Big data, Artificial Intelligence and other technical means should be adopted to develop information tools for evaluation and to enhance research on evaluation theory and methods of scientific and technological achievements. Also, a cross-industry, cross-department, cross-regional database collecting scientific and technological results, demand, cases, and evaluation tools and methods should be established.
Incentive and exemption mechanisms for evaluating scientific and technological achievements will also be improved, according to the guideline. The reform of scientific and technological achievements evaluation will be led by the Ministry of Science and Technology and piloted in units and regions of different types.
The guideline also stressed administration streamlining in the reform, and urged related departments to pay attention to social supervision and strengthen academic self-discipline and industry self-discipline during evaluation.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, China facilitates major technological transformation and upgrading of the manufacturing sector, attaching importance to fostering the intelligent, green, service-oriented development of traditional sectors such as the coal, construction and steel industries.
The guideline underscores accelerating the construction of national logistics hubs in Zhengzhou, Changsha, Taiyuan, Yichang and Ganzhou, and increasing the listed products of the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange.
Regarding promoting advanced manufacturing, the guideline urges the building of industrial bases focused on sectors including intelligent manufacturing, new materials, new-energy vehicles and electronic information.
As New Zealand and Australia’s economies recover from the COVID-19 health and financial crises, businesses in the region are rethinking their approach to attracting, retaining, and developing talent as a key asset for business recovery.
The adoption of innovative HR software solutions that respond to the changing needs of the workforce in the aftermath of the recession is at the heart of this strategic shift. The lessons learnt over the last year have prompted HR and business leaders to reconsider not only their crisis response strategies but also their recovery plans for 2021. An important aspect of this is their investment in HR technology (89%), which is a key decision that has an impact at various stages of the recovery cycle.
Organisations that invest in HR technology stay ahead of a potential brain drain in the region by keeping an eye on talent trends and preparing for these shifts within their own teams even before they occur. The most recent HR software solutions capture the entire employee life cycle, providing HR and business leaders with visibility into their talent pool as they enter the next phase of growth.
Driving business impact with AI
Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence, emerged as one of the top technology investments driving the most impact in HR in the wake of COVID-19. Employers in the past year have turned to tools, such as predictive analytics, that are built into a number of human capital management software systems today. These tools can purportedly make predictions about talent activity – or “at least suggest where there might be potential issues”, says the chief operating officer at the Software company.
With an integrated AI analytics platform, modern software solutions enable organisations to intervene before concerns become actual risks. “This has definitely brought the need for AI forward,” he says. “To have the data accessible to be able to make those decisions in an educated way is certainly an important part for people management to move that to the next level.”
Organisations that invest in HR technology stay ahead of a potential brain drain in the region by monitoring talent trends and preparing their own teams for these shifts even before they occur. The most recent HR software solutions capture the entire employee life cycle, giving HR and business leaders visibility into their talent pool as they enter the next stage of expansion.
Keeping teams connected to the mission
For the chief operating officer at the Software company, the challenge for HR software vendors is to make sure they can “cover all bases and really bring people together, irrespective of where and how they’re working”.
“We’ve seen a really big shift in terms of HR software being potentially seen as just the automation of the process, but, in this new digital and remote world, it’s also playing a big role in terms of the employee experience [EX] and employer brand,” he says.
HR software solutions facilitate cross-functional communication within their environment, particularly when managers are tracking, reviewing, and approving documents or facilitating performance reviews, promotions, and succession planning. This technologically driven approach to strategic HR functions contributes to a better overall employee experience.
Innovative HR solutions enable organisations to keep employees up to date via automated emails and real-time push notifications on their desktops or mobile devices. They can conduct daily, weekly, and monthly pulse surveys, communicate the company’s employee value proposition across channels and drive engagement with employees even when they are unable to interact with them face-to-face.
Without a doubt, technology has brought about the necessary positive change in most HR Departments. However, it should be noted that technological advancements are still far from human decision-making abilities.
To enable the development of wearable devices that possess advanced ultraviolet (UV) detection functions, Singaporean scientists have created a new type of light sensor that is both flexible and highly sensitive.
While invisible to the human eye, UV rays in the environment, and excessive exposure can cause health issues including skin cancer and premature skin ageing. The intensity of UV rays is typically reported through an index during weather reports. A wearable device, such as a T-shirt or watch that monitors the actual personal UV exposure throughout the day, would be a useful and more accurate guide for people seeking to avoid sun damage.
In their study, which was featured on the front cover of the peer-reviewed journal, the researchers reported that their flexible UV light sensors were 25 times more responsive, and 330 times more sensitive, than existing sensors, exceeding the performance level required for optoelectronic applications – or light-based electronics.
UV light sensors, also known as photodetectors, are used in a wide range of systems, from smartphones to biomedical imaging. Over the past decades, gallium nitride (GaN) has gained prominence as the ideal material to fabricate UV light sensors, largely due to its superior properties in emitting, regulating, transmitting, and sensing light. However, most GaN-based UV sensors today are built on rigid layers, limiting their use in flexible and wearable products.
While researchers elsewhere have developed flexible GaN-based UV sensors, they have not attained the level of performance required for state-of-the-art use. Two of their biggest challenges are low responsivity and low sensitivity.
The NTU team overcame these constraints by creating their flexible UV light sensors on a semiconductor wafer 8 inches in diameter, using free-standing single-crystalline layers of GaN and aluminium gallium nitride (AlGaN), arranged using membranes that consist of two different thin semiconductor layers (heterostructure membranes).
This type of semiconductor structure, which can be fabricated using existing industrial compatible methods, allows the material to be easily bent, making it ideal for use in flexible sensors. At the same time, the chemical composition of the material changes with depth, meaning that high performance is maintained even when it comes under strain.
Lead researcher said that the high performance of the team’s flexible UV light sensors proves that it would be feasible to manufacture large-scale lightweight and flexible electronics for use in future relevant light-based applications. The team’s achievement could lead to significant advances in UV optoelectronic devices and circuits, as product engineers could now look forward to developing UV-enabled wearable systems.
While the performance of the rigid form of GaN-based UV light sensors has been greatly improved with various structural innovations over the past years, a flexible version remains in its infancy and their performance is far behind that of the rigid counterparts. Their high-performance flexible UV light sensors pave the way forward for a wide range of future wearable applications, such as in personal smart health monitoring, where people can accurately measure their UV exposure levels throughout the day to reduce their risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer can be prevented by protecting the skin from excessive sun exposure. In this context, a reliable wearable device that could track UV exposure may be a handy tool to help monitor one’s recommended exposure, particularly for those who spend a lot of time outdoors.
This demonstration on a flexible platform opens vast opportunities not only in UV photodetectors but also in other optoelectronic and electronic device applications. The project to develop the flexible UV light sensors took the team two years of design, fabrication, and testing. Moving forward, the researchers are looking to devise eye-type UV imagers and other applications using their innovation.
The Ministry of Education is collaborating with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and a private chip manufacturing giant to launch an artificial intelligence (AI) skilling programme, AI for All. It aims to provide a basic understanding of AI for all Indian citizens.
According to a news report, the private player has launched a special, four-hour-long self-paced learning module that explains AI in a way that is suitable for a novice audience. The course is available in 11 Indian languages and is open to the general public. The course has two parts – AI awareness and AI appreciation. At the end of each stage, participants will be given personalised digital badges that can be shared on social media, the company said. The programme will build a digital-first mindset and expand access to the AI skills needed for current and future jobs.
The programme is in line with the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog’s National Strategy for AI, which focuses on leveraging the technology for inclusive growth and developing large-scale solutions for societal needs. NITI Aayog is the country’s think tank.
Further, the programme is also aligned with the National Education Policy 2020, which emphasises creating ways to prepare students for an AI-driven economy. An official from the Ministry of Education noted that the policy acknowledges the importance of AI. AI For All is one of the largest AI public awareness programmes worldwide and will help “demystify AI in an inclusive manner strengthening India’s position as a global leader for emerging technologies”.
A recent report on AI patents in India showed that from a vertical perspective, consumer electronics, personal computing devices, and healthcare are on the top of the AI patent filings list. With a 93% share, machine learning is the most popular AI technique while computer vision is the leading functional area with a share of 36%. More than 70% of the technology patents filed in India relate to one or more emerging technology domains. At an international level, patent filing grew by 4% in the year 2020. AI accounts for 6% of all emerging tech patents in India. Over 5,000 AI patents were filed over the last decade in India, out of which 94% of them were filed in the last five years.
AI patent filing in India will maintain an upward trajectory as the country is emerging as a key destination for AI innovation. Currently, the country is ranked 8th in the world for AI patent filing and 4th in terms of AI research papers.
It is estimated that AI has the potential to add over 500 billion dollars and 20 million jobs to the Indian economy by 2025. India has a diverse pool of talent working on innovative ideas in the space of AI to solve real-world problems. The AI domain attracted the highest investment in 2020 at US$ 443.8 million. It was followed by the analytics domain with a cumulative investment of US$214.8 million. The automation field received total financing of US$ 91.7 million, followed by the conversational AI and NLP domain with US$ 38.6 million. Robotics and IoT received 0.8% and 0.6% of the total funding, respectively.
China issued a guideline that detailed measures to promote the region’s economic growth, scientific and technological innovation, urbanisation, green development, opening-up, and people’s well-being. By 2025, the comprehensive strength and competitiveness of the region should be further enhanced, and marked progress should be achieved in innovation capacity, with its proportion of research and development input in the regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reaching the national average.
Regarding promoting advanced manufacturing, the guideline urges the building of industrial bases focused on sectors including intelligent manufacturing, new materials, new-energy vehicles and electronic information.
China also facilitates the major technological transformation and upgrading of the manufacturing sector, attaching importance to fostering the intelligent, green, service-oriented development of traditional sectors such as the coal, construction and steel industries. It also underscores accelerating the construction of national logistics hubs in Zhengzhou, Changsha, Taiyuan, Yichang and Ganzhou, and increasing the listed products of the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange.
In terms of environmental protection and pollution control, the guideline says compensation mechanisms for ecological protection and damage should be implemented, while prominent environmental problems in the region should be addressed by developing technological solutions.
To achieve inland high-level opening-up, the country should speed up the development of transportation in the region, including building high-speed railways, promoting the construction of an international logistics centre and international airfreight shipping centre, and improving the international air-traffic network.
The guideline also urges continued efforts to develop pilot free trade zones in the provinces of Anhui, Henan, Hubei and Hunan to a high standard, and optimise a business environment that is market-oriented, rule-based and internationalised.
The central region should accelerate the standardisation of hospitals for infectious diseases and centres for disease control and prevention, and improve the ability of urban and rural communities to provide medical services.
The supply of high-quality public goods, such as world-class universities and large-scale medical institutions, should be increased in the region, the guideline says, specifying that world-renowned universities will be encouraged to run schools in partnership with local institutions and conduct research and develop technology to solve problems. Large-scale comprehensive medical institutions are welcome to set up subsidiaries in the region.
In terms of fiscal and financial support, the central government will continue to increase transfer payments to the central region, and local governments can be allocated more bond issuance quotas on the condition that risks are under control.
As reported by OpenGov Asia, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has played an important role in China’s efforts to build a moderately prosperous society. China has taken a host of practical measures to promote science and technology in socio-economic development, foster innovation, support the transfer and industrialisation of research results, and encourage more investment in scientific and technological infrastructure.
The ministry has also made breakthroughs in its reform of the research system, created a better environment for innovation, improved the resource allocation system and has inspired creativity in science and technology workers.
The ministry has also worked with multiple provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions to encourage institutes in economically thriving areas to cooperate with their counterparts in less-developed western regions, and has also helped technology-intensive east coast enterprises establish presences in the west. The introduction of investment, business and talented people has helped less-developed areas build their own high-tech industries, train local professionals, and create more jobs.
Regarding the ministry’s targets in core technologies, the ministry will continue concentrating on basic materials, essential manufacturing techniques and high-end chips as well as industrial software so these fields can catch up with current world leaders.
In addition, cutting-edge disciplines like Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum information, advanced manufacturing, brain sciences and aerospace technology will remain at the top of the ministry’s support list.