AI is The X Factor in COVID-19 Countermeasures, Says Malaysia’s Skymind

Avanti Kumar

May 6, 2020

AI married to blockchain may deliver the security balance needed to move forward to monitor the spread of the coronavirus.

By Avanti Kumar

Malaysia-headquartered artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem pioneer Skymind Holdings (Skymind) has announced it is actively working with the nation’s health ministry to boost COVID-19 countermeasures. At the time of writing, the global surge of novel coronavirus – (SARS-Cov-2) has brought the world to a crawl.

Initial tactical measures mainly comprise various forms of lock-downs to slow down infection rates in an attempt to stem unprecedented pressures on national health systems. Current containment attempts have resulted in scenarios around the world of frozen businesses, blocked transport systems, closed schools and colleges, multiple cancelled events, and the best and worst of human nature.

Digital factors

However, there is a major difference in how we are combating the current pandemic compared to previous outbreaks, according to some commentators. Strategic measures, buoyed by the use of digital technologies in harmony with human innovation, could be a significant factor in bringing about sufficient balance to enable a return to a measure of economic harmony. 

Thankfully, digital technologies offer a more robust platform compared when combating the COVID-19 crisis compared to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. While the spread of the virus is inevitable, governments need to closely monitor the impact of their various containment and control measures in tandem with the race to find a lasting solution. 

To that end, Skymind CEO and co-founder of Skymind Global Ventures (SGV) Shawn Tan announced in early April of the delivery of an Axial AI-based system to Hospital Tunku Azizah Kuala Lumpur to advance the adoption of analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) in clinical and healthcare research on COVID-19 in Malaysia.

Running on systems from United Imaging Intelligence, the technology to enable machine learning and deep learning applications in the Axial AI system is using Skymind’s technology Eclipse DL4J. It takes less than 30 minutes to install the AI Supercomputer which is designed to work on-premise, according to a statement from Skymind. 

“Using our platform Eclipse DL4J, we have designed the Axial AI system to be used by the people who work with patient’s data and have the contextual understanding, including doctors and clinicians,” said Shawn in a statement. 

“With the platform, we give them the ability to bring all the relevant patient information together, curate the data and use the power of AI to support precision diagnosis, early intervention and greater medical efficiency. The Axial AI system is not built specifically for the COVID-19 purpose but being a software development toolkit, it can also develop AI diagnosis systems for other diseases which the hospital requires.”

How Big Data and AI help in tackling COVID-19

The Skymind Laboratory of Neurobionix Research is a joint research lab in Shanghai, China under Shanghai Research Centre of Brain Science and Brain-Inspired Intelligence and Skymind China. Led by Prof. Zhang Xu, the academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, under the governance of The Administration of Shanghai Brain-Intelligence Project. 

Skymind Neurobionix Research’s collaboration with Malaysia’s health ministry is the first international partnership to share technology and expertise in research to help in the management of the spread of COVID-19.The crux of understanding and overcoming COVID-19 rests largely in the handling of big data.

Shawn’s comments on the collaboration with the health ministry include: “AI has countless applications in healthcare. Whether it’s being used to discover links between genetic codes, to power surgical robots or even to maximise hospital efficiency, AI has been a boon to the healthcare system.”

Applications of AI-driven technology solutions include relieving the burden on administration systems and under-resourced healthcare staff by enabling the automation of processes such as screening patients for symptoms and recording necessary information.

Further expansion of this solution is expected “countries already showing interest include Iraq, with many more on the way”.  In Malaysia, Skymind has just deployed its Axial AI system to another hospital – Sunway Medical Centre for a joint research project.

Skymind AI Ecosystem Partner, United Imaging has also confirmed the rapid deployment of AI-powered transportable CT scanners in Maimonides Medical Center, the largest hospital in Brooklyn, New York, on the front lines of the current crisis. “The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that everything from the individual to governments at every corner of the world operates, and at dizzying speeds,” Shawn further commented.

China’s national healthcare project

Skymind has been described by Shawn as ‘the default AI Operating System for the “Healthcare Brain” of China National Healthcare Big Data Project’; a pilot project that was launched in Fuzhou, Fujian Province on 26th June 2017. 

When Skymind and the Skymind Laboratory of Neurobionix Research in Shanghai, China (Skymind Neurobionix)’s Axial AI system and related services is an artificial intelligence system which has been put to work at more than 60 COVID-19 specialised hospitals across China including Huo Shen Shan and Lei Shen Shan Hospitals in Wuhan.

Being an on premise solution, the Axial AI system delivered to the Hospital Tunku Azizah ensures that no other entity apart from the hospital staff has access to patient’s sensitive data which is in compliance with Malaysia’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). “My perspective towards China’s enormous success in beating down COVID-19 epidemic is that it’s not by luck, it’s about readiness,” Shawn has said. 

“China stopped the epidemic by combining conventional public health measures with the largest application of information technology to public health in history, including AI-assisted diagnosis systems to location tracking of likely carriers, identification of probable nodes of infection, continuous monitoring of the vital signs of a large proportion of its 1.4 billion people, and the use of technologies to regulate the quarantine of individuals.”

The Privacy Factor: AI and Blockchain

While the majority are following the health guidelines, a minority can disrupt the efficacy of tactical measures. Measuring the movement of people is possible, balanced with privacy safeguards set by individual governments, a set of data. [As a sidenote, private companies like Google or Facebook are already making use of geolocation of mobile devices with our permission for commercial purposes. (iPhone users can take a look Significant Locations in their System Settings.)]

Even as another debate rages centred around various AI-human issues, commenters have posited a more practical approach to the technology. Anonymised data is the fuel needed to better see how the disease is spreading and guide counter-measures more effectively. Machine learning (a form of AI implementation) can help drive predictive modelling with a better level of precision. Risk levels of a person based on their activity and behaviour may build specific preventive measures.

As an aside, AI used with blockchain technology may deliver and securely share a more transparent yet encrypted picture of data. Blockchain is a distributed, decentralised, immutable ledger used to store encrypted data, while AI is the brain that can enable analytics and better decision making from the data.

Looking Ahead

The recent collaboration with the Ministry of Health in Malaysia is the first step to build a global research community with a focus on how AI can better position people to weather pandemics. 

Director-General of Ministry of Health, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has welcomed collaboration from the private sector in the fight against the pandemic adding in comment: “The contribution from Skymind will help the medical staff conducting clinical research to provide useful information and understanding on COVID-19 in Malaysia. This will be a steep learning curve for us all within the health sector. With all hands-on deck, we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of all people – your health remains our priority.”

Shawn says Skymind is committed to the long haul in building Malaysia and the Southeast Asia region as an AI hub for the world, concluding that: “Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination.”

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About the author
Avanti Kumar

Contributing Author

As well as being a journalist and editor, Avanti has over 25 years of experience in corporate content strategy consulting, writing and project management in various sectors, which include ICT, media and public relations, airlines, energy, human capital and business planning. Originally from London, Avanti has been based in Malaysia since 2000, and specialises in tracking digital transformation in Asia.

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