Tencent teams up with ‘Sars hero’ Zhong Nanshan on AI, big data lab to combat coronavirus and predict outbreaks


  • China
  • Monday, 02 Mar 2020

The joint lab aims to combat the novel coronavirus and help prevent future epidemics. Tencent is the latest company to team up with top expert Zhong, who is also collaborating with Alibaba Cloud and Foxconn. — SCMP

Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings and a team led by top respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan have jointly set up a big data and artificial intelligence lab to combat the novel coronavirus and help prevent future epidemics.

“The priority of the joint lab is to combat the coronavirus,” Tencent said on its official WeChat account on Thursday. “The longer-term goal is to tackle screening and provide early warning of epidemics, respiratory diseases and chest diseases through the use of big data and artificial intelligence.”

The joint lab, which will be headed by Zhong, will establish a screening mechanism connecting online and offline services to provide guidance to at-risk populations for disease outbreaks such as Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, as well as influenza and hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD), which typically occurs in children under five years of age.

At the same time, researchers at the lab will study how artificial intelligence can help improve the diagnosis of respiratory and lung diseases through medical images and forecast future outbreaks, according to Tencent’s post.

Big data and AI have played a big role in China’s tech-driven response to the coronavirus outbreak, with companies racing to find ways to better diagnose the disease and find treatments.

Aside from Tencent, competitor Alibaba Cloud has also engaged Zhong to lead a team accelerating viral gene-sequencing, protein-screening and to conduct other research in treating or preventing the virus, in collaboration with its AI-powered computing platform.

Alibaba – the parent company of the Post – along with Chinese artificial intelligence start-up Yitu Technology and telecoms gear provider Huawei is offering AI-backed services to help analyse the computerised axial tomography (CAT) scans used by hospitals to diagnose patients suspected to have the coronavirus.

Usually, it takes a doctor from five to 15 minutes to analyse a CAT scan of one suspected patient, which could include more than 300 images, to come up with a clinical diagnosis, whereas Alibaba said its new algorithm can complete the recognition process within 20 seconds, alleviating pressure on hospitals.

“Recent groundbreaking and industry-first technologies in diagnostic imaging include algorithms and AI technology embedded in mobile general radiography systems to accurately detect the deadly condition of pneumothorax,” said Bhvita Jani, senior analyst with IHS Markit in a report.

“In such circumstances, AI-powered recognition to drive case prioritisation and identification of key indicators and symptoms of the coronavirus, in particular pneumonia, will provide solace in helping medical professionals to tackle and control outbreak of this global epidemic.”

Zhong is well known for his pivotal role in China’s fight against the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2002 and 2003, and has been dubbed a “Sars hero” by Chinese state media.

In January, when the novel coronavirus outbreak began spreading from its epicentre in Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei province, Zhong was selected by the Ministry of Science and Technology to lead the fight against the deadly disease which has so far killed more than 2,800 people globally.

Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer, also announced earlier this week that it had engaged Zhong as its chief coronavirus prevention adviser, to help the firm cope with the health crisis as it resumes production in China. – South China Morning Post

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