“Faster and better”: How this AI startup raised the alarm for coronavirus a week before the World Health Organisation

Wuhan China

Streets near Hankou Railway Station, Wuhan, China. Photo: Benjamin Chris.

Canadian artificial intelligence startup BlueDot has been ahead of global health organisations for tracking the spread of coronavirus, first raising the alarm on New Year’s Eve, a week before the World Health Organisation and the US Centre for Disease Control.

According to media reports, BlueDot founder and chief executive Kamran Khan says the startup has been able to predict vulnerable locations thanks to the machine learning’s ability to compile information from official sources and “little murmurs or forums or blogs”.

“We know that governments may not be relied upon to provide information in a timely fashion,” Khan said.

“We are trying to push the frontiers for using data and analytics in technology to do things faster and better,” he added.

By analysing flight data from Wuhan in China, the epicentre of the most recent outbreak, the Toronto-based startup has so far been accurate in predicting the spread of the virus to cities such as Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

The BlueDot team of 40 includes scientists, tech experts and healthcare specialists, who are filtering through the large amounts of data pulled from international newspapers in dozens of languages, official health reports, satellite climate data, and government statistics of population, local insect species and health resources.

As a result, these governments, hospitals and businesses have reportedly signed on to become BlueDot’s clients.

Khan was a doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto during the SARS outbreak, where 44 people died.

“It was a profound event where I had a chance first hand to see a colleague of mine get SARS,” Khan said.

There are now 40,660 cases of coronavirus patients and 910 deaths.

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