Confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) exceed those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and, at time of publication, now stand at over 73,435 confirmed cases and over 2000 deaths globally, nearly all in China. By comparison, SARS killed 774 people in 2003, again mostly in China, the epicentre of both outbreaks. Both COVID-19 and SARS spread across continents, infect animals and humans, and use similar mechanics to enter and infect the cell. On the frontline, tactical response to COVID-19 is similar to that of SARS but one major difference exists: in the 17 years since SARS, a powerful new tool has emerged that could potentially be instrumental in keeping this virus within reasonable limits—namely, artificial intelligence (AI).
Few would argue that AI is causing a paradigm shift in health care and there might be value in the application of AI to the current COVID-19 outbreak, for example, in predicting the location of the next outbreak. This application is effectively what the Canadian company, Blue Dot, has attempted to do and as such was widely reported as the first organisation to reveal news of the outbreak in late December. Various other applications of AI that have emerged in response to the latest epidemic include BenevolentAI and Imperial College London, which report that a drug approved for rheumatoid arthritis, baricitinib, might be effective against the virus, while Insilico Medicine based in Hong Kong recently announced that its AI algorithms had designed six new molecules that could halt viral replication.