• John Ennis

Eye on AI - March 20th, 2020


Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!

We continue this week with our coverage of the COVID-19 epidemic, the most important topic in the world right now, and of its interaction with technology. Rather than focus on one story, we thought it might be more helpful to cover several topics briefly, some that focus on how the government’s use of AI to combat the spread COVID-19, and some that outline how many restaurants are using AI to innovate in order to stay afloat while their doors are shuttered. Stay home and stay safe!


Scientists, U.S. Government Look to AI to Help Combat COVID-19



To begin, let’s look at how the U.S. Government has turned to AI to assist in mitigating the impact of COVID-19. According to a recent Axios article, titled “White House seeks AI help in answering coronavirus questions,” the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) this week requested the help of AI experts, researchers and scientists to mine through massive literature-based datasets to quickly answer questions about the coronavirus.


“It's difficult for people to manually go through more than 20,000 articles and synthesize their findings,” says Anthony Goldbloom, co-founder and CEO of Kaggle. “Recent advances in technology can be helpful here. We're putting machine readable versions of these articles in front of our community of more than 4 million data scientists. Our hope is that AI can be used to help find answers to a key set of questions about COVID-19."

Working with organizations like the Allen Institute for AI, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Microsoft, and the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, OSTP was able to compile a dataset of over 29,000 articles about COVID-19, which it then provided to scientists and researchers hoping to mine the data to answer specific questions about the virus provided by OSTP, such as information on treatments, symptoms, viral transfers, etc. The best answers will receive a monetary reward and notable press, as well as immense karma and feel-good points for helping to ease human suffering during the current pandemic.


AI experts in the private sector are helping to fight the spread of COVID-19 in other ways as well. Verily, an Alphabet, Inc. company, is working on a new coronavirus testing website using AI, helping users identify viral symptoms––you may remember some confusion around this after Trump’s announcement about a Google-created website at a recent news conference; in actuality, Google is releasing a coronavirus information site, while Verily, which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc., is releasing a testing site–– while Folding@homes, a distributed computing project that uses spare processing power from people’s computers to aid in disease research, announced this week it has joined lab researchers in working toward a coronavirus cure. Digital Trends recently outlined this announcement in their article, “Coronavirus could meet its match with Folding@Home’s crowdsourced computing.”


“By downloading Folding@Home, you can donate your unused computational resources to the Folding@Home Consortium, where researchers are working to advance our understanding of the structures of potential drug targets for 2019-nCoV that could aid in the design of new therapies,” FAH’s website says. “The data you help us generate will be quickly and openly disseminated as part of an open science collaboration of multiple laboratories around the world, giving researchers new tools that may unlock new opportunities for developing life-saving drugs.”

In other words, computing many formulas needed to come up with a COVID-19 vaccine requires immense computational power not readily available. To help expedite calculations, you can help Folding@home’s cause from home by donating your computer’s spare computational resources using the link above.


Restaurants Innovate to Help Mitigate Profit Losses


(Photo from thespoon.tech)


While the tech sector works closely with the government during this pandemic, the service industry seems left out to sea, struggling to stay afloat. Restaurants recently petitioned the government for financial assistance as closures and layoffs mounted. But some restaurants are turning to tech-inspired innovations to help bolster sales during the recent shuttering. Creator, the robot-burger startup we covered last week, released a new delivery method to combat corona-contamination (video here), for example, which leaves their robot-produced burgers virtually untouched by human hands prior to delivery, while Chipotle this week unveiled a series of daily "Chipotle Together" celebrity-hosted video conferencing sessions through Zoom to promote social distancing and connect with a younger audience.


“The outbreak has led to a plunge of as much as 64% in restaurant occupancy compared to the same time last year, per OpenTable data cited by Recode,” writes Mobile Marketer reporter Robert Williams in the article, ‘Chipotle tackles social distancing with virtual hangouts on Zoom.’ “.... Even before cities and states announced restrictions on dining establishments, Chipotle had created a tamper-evident packaging seal to ensure that food is untouched during delivery, and upgraded the messaging feature of its delivery tracker to provide real-time updates…. Chipotle's virtual hangouts on Zoom are a novel way to bring people together as they practice social distancing to reduce the likelihood of spreading the illness COVID-19.”

“Chipotle Together” chats have the added benefit of helping to drive customers to Chipotle’s mobile apps, which offer easy delivery options. To my mind, restaurants that best connect with customers and innovate to promote safety during this pandemic will be best prepared to stay afloat while stores are closed, and after.


That’s all for now. May everyone out there stay safe and smart as we continue to hunker down.


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