Roundup: Experts explore implications of AI in fighting COVID-19


ROME, Oct. 20 (Xinhua) -- Experts, researchers and industrialists on Tuesday analysed the implications of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in fighting COVID-19 among others at a conference organized by Italian news agency ANSA in collaboration with Huawei Italy.

AI AND COVID-19

Among the panelists was Luigi Tavolato, the chief technology officer (CTO) at VoiceWise, a company that specializes in the interface between AI and medical diagnostics.

VoiceWise is currently running a pilot project in collaboration with Huawei Italy, searching for biomarkers for COVID-19 infection in people's voices through a specially designed app.

Huawei Italy provided the smartphones equipped with the VoiceWise app which is being used on an experimental basis to diagnose and monitor COVID-19 infections in three different hospitals in Italy.

"With the help of Huawei, which donated the devices, we determined that the microphones on the cell phones were of a sufficient quality to identify the characteristics of COVID-19 from the voice recordings of the patients," Tavolato said.

The advantage of using AI such as VoiceWise technology in diagnostics is that some symptoms are not detectable through traditional methods, Tavolato said.

He made the example of Parkinson's disease: "This is a type of pathology that is detected when the person starts to tremble, and at that point it's already late as the disease is at an advanced stage."

Tavolato explained that VoiceWise technology is able to "detect the first signs of Parkinson's a year in advance -- this means you can start treatment sooner (and) delay the onset of the disease."

Also present at the conference was Huawei Italy President Luigi De Vecchis, who said that while AI is evolving fast and can improve people's lives, humans must change their working and thinking processes if their interface with AI is to be truly effective.

"It is important to prepare ourselves to use AI in order to understand it -- and whoever understands it first will have a great advantage, so we must bet on training as a fundamental element of this process," the Huawei Italy executive said.

De Vecchis cited the example of the advent of the steam engine 200 years ago, which revolutionised work processes over the course of two centuries.

"That is what will happen with AI, but I don't think that today we fully know all the implications of this technology," De Vecchis added.

AI AND SUSTAINABILITY

Digital Transformation Institute is a research center focusing on digital transformation and its impacts on environmental, cultural, social and economic sustainability and the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Stefano Epifano, president of the Institute, said that going forward, "we must design AI according to the sustainability criteria" if future generations are to enjoy the same resources we have today.

"We must be very careful at this historical moment to conceive algorithms that are intrinsically sustainable in order to make sure that AI will be able to support and help us make sustainable choices," Epifano said.

"AI, which is a tool, does not have intrinsic ethics, but it has the ethics of the algorithms that compose it, and that are conferred on it by those who build the system of rules within which the algorithms will act," Epifano explained.

This is the way to make sure that in the future, AI as we design it today will "satisfy the needs of the present generations, without compromising the possibility of future generations of meeting their needs."

"This capacity, this characteristic, represents the ultimate aim of sustainability, and therefore must represent the ultimate aim of AI," Tavolato said, adding "In order for the future to be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable, we must today design the rules of the choices that will govern that future."

AI TRANSFORMING INDUSTRY

Ernesto Mininno, founder and CEO of AI software and engineering company Cyber Dyne, told participants that his company developed an AI platform that supports decision-making processes within businesses -- from manufacturing to services to fashion, from multinationals to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

"The key theme is that this type of AI has the objective and the advantage of helping the company reduce costs and increase earnings," Mininno said.

He described AI as "training a machine to either describe what is happening -- for example facial recognition or identifying objects in a photograph -- or training it to forecast what could happen in the future, for example the trend in sales over the next six months."

Antonio Fabio Giuliani, general manager of Bosch Italy, said that for his company, "AI is a way to perceive reality in a different way than the way in which we currently perceive it."

Bosch researches and develops connected and intelligent systems for sectors including automotive, industry, energy and building, as well as consumer goods.

He described AI as "a new concept that brings about a transformation in our understanding of things."

AI CREATES JOBS, BUT TRAINING IS KEY

Marco Bentivogli, the founder of Base Italia cultural association and a former secretary general of FIM-CISL steelworkers union, said that "the absence of technology is what destroys jobs" and not the other way around.

"In terms of the density of robotics with respect to population density, the countries with the highest rate of robotics per population are Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Germany," said Bentivogli. "These are the countries with the highest number of robots installed per inhabitant, and they are also the countries with the lowest unemployment rates."

Technologies such as AI "do have a disruptive effect, but the time it takes to adjust to this radical change always depends on how much preparation and groundwork has been done beforehand -- and the best way to prepare is education and training," Bentivogli explained.

Valerio Romano, managing director of Accenture Technology, said that his company, which deals with consulting, digital innovation and technological advancement and employs over 16,000 people in Italy, has invested 1 billion U.S. dollars in workforce training.

"It is not enough to invest in new technology, as most companies are doing," Romano said. "These investments must go hand in hand with investments in training."

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