- The coronavirus pandemic is entering what could be the most devastating week for the US to date.
- As the outbreak worsens, attention is shifting to gaps in preparedness at all levels — from tepid company responses to missteps by the Trump administration.
- JPMorgan Chase analysts are touting a new response model they refer to as the ‘internet of living things’ that relies upon large data sets and advanced tech, like artificial intelligence.
- While there are glimmers of many of the Wall Street giant’s suggestions already under way, large-scale adoption seems unlikely during this pandemic.
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The coronavirus pandemic is entering what federal officials say is likely to be the worst week for the outbreak in the US to date.
But as the country braces for what could end up being hundreds of thousands of deaths, attention is also on the gaps in preparedness at all levels that led to the devastating situation both America and the globe are facing right now.
There is ample criticism over the Trump administration’s approach. But there are also growing signs that corporate America acted too slowly as well. Employees at JPMorgan Chase, for example, expressed outrage to The Wall Street Journal over the Wall Street giant’s delay in transitioning to remote work.
Inside the bank, its experts are questioning whether the wider use of advanced technology would have been a game-changer.
Analysts at JPMorgan said global leaders missed a major opportunity to use the immense amount of stored information within corporations, government agencies, and other sources — along with artificial intelligence and other digital tools — to limit the impact of the coronavirus and shield the global economy from turmoil.
“Big data should have been urgently mobilized in the more important tasks of saving lives and protecting economies,” analysts Marko Kolanovic and Bram Kaplan wrote in a recent report to investors. “There is no reason why anonymized, aggregate information about onset of disease symptoms could not be available and tracked by artificial intelligence in real time.”
The process to create what JPMorgan is calling the “internet of living things” is an ambitious checklist — one that seems unlikely to materialize any time soon during the ongoing outbreak.
But there are glimmers of much of what JPMorgan is pushing. We unpacked each step below.
A ‘daily roll call’
Kolanovic and Kaplan are calling for a daily tally of the population to track who has the virus.
It’s a method that China adopted as it sought to tamp down the outbreak in the country, but an approach that many other countries have yet to mirror. The analysts said it could be achieved through an application on a smartphone or done via text message — like the current emergency alert system.
“A minute of time would be a small ask during a pandemic, but would provide likely the most comprehensive real-time picture of illness and its dynamics,” they wrote.
To encourage participation, Kolanovic and Kaplan suggested that the government make it mandatory or provide some sort of incentive, like health care credits.
It’s not a totally unrealistic suggestion, especially given that the vast majority of Americans now have cell phones (although that’s not true globally). But there are major hurdles. In the US, for example, such a system would likely require some sort of congressional action.
There are also other avenues that governments are pursuing.
A new platform from Israeli technology firm NSO Group, for example, would allow officials to combine mobile tracking data with healthcare databases to track individuals confirmed to have the virus, to learn who else may be at risk.
And unlike NSO — which doesn’t own or have access to the eventual data used to power the software — Google is using its vast trove of data-monitoring sources to track whether individuals are adhering to new social distancing guidelines.
Internet-enabled diagnostic tools
From digitally enabled thermometers to sensors in an individual’s house that could remotely monitor body temperatures, new internet-powered diagnostic tools could be a game-changer in pandemic preparedness.
“The internet of living things could be an ongoing system with its own economics, or it could be an emergency response system activated as a response to an epidemic,” wrote Kolanovic and Kaplan.
The more obvious systems — like smartwatches from Apple, FitBit, and others — could play a role in helping to mitigate the spread of the virus, but largely lack the more sophisticated tech that would make reliance more ubiquitous.
Other platforms could monitor heart rates and automatically call an ambulance if a patient may be at risk for heart attack or stroke. Such applications will likely become even more critical in the future, as this outbreak accelerates the adoption of telemedicine.
War rooms and open-source databases
A combination of private and public sector efforts would give tech and healthcare experts access to immense databases that could be analyzed to not only mitigate the spread of a virus, but also to help contain the economic fallout, argued Kolanovic and Kaplan.
“Once the data are processed, these war rooms of data scientists and health professionals would coordinate the response with appropriate authorities,” the authors wrote.
Similar to that, Kolanovic and Kaplan are also calling for the creation of a central website to allow researchers across the globe to access all relevant data sets in real time.
In the example of a malaria drug that President Donald Trump and others have touted as a potential treatment (despite the lack of scientific evidence), the authors said that combining the various studies out there on it could allow scientists to use “a machine learning/AI-driven model that could combine the different datasets to produce a probability model for success of this drug.”
Alongside the healthcare efforts, the authors also encouraged the sharing of data sets to enable 3D printers to produce in-demand items like ventilators or masks.
Such coordination is already occurring on a small scale.
The White House, for example, is relying on statistics from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation to help guide its response. The University of Pittsburgh also quickly created an online database to help guide research efforts.
And Cisco is making its data on 3D-printed face shields available across the globe.
AI assessments to determine who can re-enter the economy
Using many of the aforementioned tools — like at-home sensors and tracking data — artificial intelligence can be used to figure out when (or if) a specific individual is deemed safe enough to venture back out into regular society.
Such a system could “reduce risk for the individual, for others, and could optimize re-starting [the] economy case by case, in different geographic regions and stages of pandemic,” wrote Kolanovic and Kaplan.
But all these steps would likely further ignite privacy fears, given it would require the widespread sharing of information that some may deem personal.
To be sure, the authors called for great care to “ensure data is protected, anonymized and used only in aggregate, to prevent personal data from being stolen or manipulated by a malicious actor.”
Analysts at JPMorgan say an AI-backed system called the 'internet of living things' could be our best chance of fighting the coronavirus — and all future pandemics as well. Here's how it would work.