China fights the virus with high tech and AI23. March 2020
China fights the virus with high tech and AI
Disinfection robots, intelligent helmets, drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and advanced facial recognition software – this is just a small selection of the entire equipment that the Chinese are now using in their fight against Covid-19. The initiative in this case came from President Xi Jinping. He had called on the country’s technology sector to help fight the epidemic.
Health technology is also used to identify coronavirus symptoms, find new treatments and monitor the spread of the disease, which has so far infected more than 90,000 people worldwide.
Several Chinese companies have developed automated technologies that allow for the spraying of disinfectants or various diagnoses without any personal contact. In this way, cross-infections should be minimized.
Shenzhen-based Pudu Technology, which normally manufactures robots for the catering industry, has installed its machines in more than 40 hospitals across the country to help medical staff. MicroMultiCopter, also based in Shenzhen, uses drones to transport medical samples and produce thermal images. Alibaba claims its new AI-based diagnostic system can identify coronavirus infections with an accuracy of 96%. The Jack Ma Foundation has donated USD 2.15 million for the development of a vaccine.
“Lu Chuanying, senior official at Global Cyberspace Governance in Shanghai, wrote in an article for “China Daily” that domestic technology has helped “to stop or contain the spread of the deadly virus”, making it “one of the most reliable and trusted means of fighting Covid-19.
The privacy issue
In addition to robots and drones, China has also mobilized its sophisticated surveillance system to keep an eye on infected persons and enforce quarantines.
Face recognition cameras are installed throughout China. Now, critics say, companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to improve their technology to check crowds for fever and identify people who are not wearing masks.
SenseTime, a leading AI company, says its contactless temperature detection software has been used in subway stations, schools and community centers in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. The company also claims to have a tool that can detect faces with a “relatively high degree of accuracy” even when they wear masks. Another Chinese AI company, Megvii, has a similar temperature detection product that was used in Beijing.
“In these challenging times, we see this not as an opportunity but as our responsibility to help fight Covid-19 using our technology,” a SenseTime spokesperson told the BBC.
The Chinese newspaper Global Times reports that officials in Chengdu, Sichuan province, have received smart helmets that can measure the temperature of people within a 5-metre radius. If fever is detected, an alarm is triggered.
As Chinese citizens are slowly returning to work despite the virus outbreak, mobile phones have also emerged as a key tool for tracking the spread of the corona virus. An app called Alipay Health Code assigns the color green, yellow or red to people depending on whether they want to enter public spaces or be quarantined at home.
According to its developer Ant Financial, Big Data uses it to identify potential virus carriers. It has already been used in more than 200 Chinese cities. Tencent, which operates the popular messaging app WeChat, has introduced a similar QR code-based tracking function. The “Close Contact Detector” app warns its user if he comes into close contact with a virus carrier.