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Mirror Mirror on the Wall — Can Technology bring Hope To All?

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By Manoj Chugh, President – Group Public Affairs and Member, Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra

We are acutely aware of the travails caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Enough has already been written and read. The untold suffering and misery, the massive economic impact and effect on human lives is multitudinous. We wake up each morning and pray that the new day brings lesser pain than the one gone by. Pictures of migrants trudging back to the hinterland, with babies in their arms, moves the bravest of us. The eerie silence is heart wrenching. If our eyes well up, it is only because, we are human.

The question, we often ask ourselves is that whilst Medical science is working incredibly hard to find a treatment, a cure, antibodies and vaccines, can current available technologies offer some succour. Is there some ice pack that can help bring the fever down?

To start with, analytics and visualization tools are helping scientists and Public Health professionals understand the magnitude and velocity of the pandemic. They are capturing in real time, the rapidity of the transmission, it’s infectivity, colouring the regions and geographies that need to be focused on and pinpointing hotspots that have to be quarantined. Lives before all else. Analytics is enabling us to understand the rate of the spread. Is there a slow down? Is the rate of doubling retreating? For many of us, who may have forgotten what exponential growth means, this is rude example of one. Visualization tools are making it easier to comprehend comparisons across Regions, States and Countries. Constant slicing and dicing of data is being carried out, to help policy makers make the tough decisions.

We have often spoken about the magic of Artificial Intelligence and how hordes of data, when properly tagged and fed to machines, can be taught to predict. We see this play out in our daily lives. They nudge us what to buy, advise banks whether to lend or not, identify cancer patients by gleaning through CT scan images and support forecasters. The million dollar question is that will this technology be able to predict when and if someone is going to get infected by the “virus load?” As a first step, can this technology, at least, begin by helping in Contact Tracing? If a certain person is found to be COVID-19 +, is it possible to find out who all he could have potentially infected in the recent past?

Can we take a time machine, go back and retrace all the people whom he had contacted over the past 14 days? We know that many patients are asymptomatic. They may not know they are infected till several days later. Contact tracing becomes harder because we have to rely on memory. It becomes difficult to figure out each and every person that could potentially be at risk. If you went to a shop and there were many other folks out there at the time, it would be humanly impossible to identify everyone that was present.

Can the very same technology, that tracks your digital footprints, come to our rescue? We know that someone with a smart phone, whose Location Services are turned “on” can be traced easily. AI can help identify all people that this person came into touch with, by looking at the Latitude and Longitude of his position at any point in time. AI can then easily determine all the other people in the vicinity. If you have been walking or driving by an auto, bus or a two wheeler, that too could be tracked, along with some details of the other person or persons who were with you or around you. One can go “back in time” and trace all contacts.

The same technology that helps you buy your favourite ice-cream by tracking the favourite flavours that you have bought over many months, can now potentially save your life! Testing and Contact Tracing are the two “mantras” that can help mitigate risks in a COVID World. Artificial Intelligence can help speed up contact tracing by automating the process, efficiently processing “back” data and doing it incredibly fast with high accuracy.

For critical patients, it is inevitable, but to put them on Ventilator support. Globally, there is a dearth of specialists, healthcare workers and intensivists, fighting at the frontline. Expecting a Doctor to go from one Ventilator to another, checking on patients is not only a slow process, but also one that is fraught with risk for the Doctor. IoT Technology can “step in” and collate the required information, from each ventilator, which in-turn can be flashed on a dashboard displayed on the Doctors Mobile Phone. Almost akin to managing a large network, the Doctor can now go to those specific patients whose need urgent attention. Technology can help enhance the Doctors productivity and allow each practitioner to manage many more critical patients, whilst reducing personal risk.

The Government has been very proactive and has done laudable work. The results are there for all of us to see. We cannot turn caution to the wind as we are still in the middle of the battle. Efforts are now being put in place to leverage Digital Technologies. By downloading the Arogya Setu App, we can potentially get a lot of help. It will go a long way in enabling Contact Tracing, to keep us safe. It will also keep us abreast with all important notifications. The App downloads have crossed the 50 Million mark in record time. India continues to battle on.

As the war rages, technology will play an increasingly important role. Over the last many decades, hi tech has delivered yeoman’s service in bettering Human Lives. The time has come for it, to help us combat the toughest challenge that mankind has ever witnessed in recent living memory. And combat it will!

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author. They may or may not reflect the opinions or views of the author’s organisation)

Other articles by Manoj Chugh

New Year Wish: CIOs, May Your Tribe Increase!

The Second Renaissance – Seize The Moment

Will Smarter Citizens deliver Smart Cities?

Safe Cities: Melding Technology with Compassion


If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]

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