Mandates as We Near Herd Immunity? AI and Machine Learning Have Answers

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visualization of an AI robot with a virus entering through its nose

In spite of the debates and partisan politics that we can’t seem to avoid no matter where we turn, everybody in the United States and the world genuinely wants the same thing: to return to our normal lives and avoid individual and global-scale financial crises without contracting or spreading COVID-19. But until a herd immunity is reached, which seems unlikely with the rate of current inoculation, we are faced with a seemingly unsolvable challenge in knowing exactly how to keep the recent variants from spreading while not hurting communities by shutting down schools, businesses, and cities unnecessarily. Who should we trust? Who can we listen to? How do we know what is ok, and what types of activities are ok and what should be avoided?

Countries such as England, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Belgium and Lebanon are extending national lockdowns. Meanwhile, across the United States, some states and municipalities are continuing to implement tight restrictions on restaurants, businesses, and even social gatherings, while others are easing restrictions following the holiday season. But regardless of government orders, some businesses and individuals are flat out ignoring these restrictions, and skeptics are demanding to understand what impact, if any, such large scale and seemingly arbitrary decisions might have on the current spike in cases. The answers to these questions, up until now, have involved some combination of guesswork, conjecture, and (depending on who you ask) either strong convictions or naivety.

Even with vaccines slowly reaching a critical mass of people, it does not have to be this way. The answer to these challenges lies everywhere around us, waiting to be harvested using the same technology that we depend on to drive agriculture, banking, economics, internet search engines, financial market analysis, marketing, software engineering, telecommunication, and countless other sectors: machine learning and artificial intelligence.

When properly and expertly coupled with behavior modeling data, machine learning and artificial intelligence are the best tool for equipping decision makers, such as law makers, school superintendents, university presidents, CEOs and business owners to know how to safely open institutions, businesses, economies, and communities while COVID-19 is still rampant in the world.

The data is waiting to be harvested: national and regional data stemming from expert-backed health and epidemiological data, labor and economic data, occupational data, and environmental data. Coupled with these hard numbers, consumer behavior and attitudinal data that can be discovered by machine learning provides another layer of insight that is lacking in the traditional data tracking. Leveraging machine learning to ingest the huge amounts of national and regional data mentioned above can allow stakeholders to research, validate, and build a simulation platform and expert-backed decision engine.

All of this may sound like a highly theoretical pipe dream, but the fact is that the solution is already in place, just awaiting wider adoption and buy-in. Companies around the world have the technology to leverage AI and machine learning to tackle COVID spread and susceptibility modeling.

Dashboards can be designed to give business owners and community stakeholders real-time intelligence and predictive modeling on population health risk, consumer sentiment, and community resilience. Users can access this information in an easily understandable way that helps them view the risk to their organization or region, and they will even be able to simulate the impact of implementing evidence-based recommendations. This will ultimately enable the public and community leaders to make truly informed decisions, rather than decisions made from fear, conjecture, or pressure from members of the community.

Perhaps the best and most important part is that all of this critical information is easy to digest, rapidly deployable, and it is cost-effective and primed to suit COVID-constrained budgets. There is really no tangible reason to live in fear of the impact of COVID-19, because the heaviest lift, figuring out how to analyze all of the data, is already in place. It’s just a matter of getting buy-in from communities, organizations, and individuals like you. The platform is depending on access to more data to make the insights as extensible and local as possible, and we as a society are depending on the output from this data.

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