Posted on: Wednesday April 15, 2020
The outbreak of the novel corona virus has left the world in complete shock. COVID-19 disease caused by this deadly virus has now reached every corner of the world with number of patients exceeding a 10 million and the numbers of deaths are more than 1,00,000 worldwide. This situation has been affecting every one of us all in one way or another.
The imposition of global lockdowns, movement limitation, closure of international borders and various other measures to contain the virus, environment of law enforcement agencies and security services for protecting the public from harm is becoming complex every day. They are struck into the middle of an uncalled situation, playing crucial role in containing the wide-spread of virus and assuring public safety with social order. Several agencies have chosen AI and related technologies for support in unique and innovative ways in response to this growing crisis. High surveillance, monitoring and capability detection is now a priority on lists.
The outbreak as reported by Reuters happened in China where the authorities used facial recognition cameras to track a man from Hangzhou, travelling in affected areas and upon his return home, the local police instructed him for self-quarantine or face repercussions. Now local police in China and Spain have started using the technology to enforce quarantine as drones being used for surveillance and broadcast audio messages to public and encouraging them to stay back at home. In United States, surveillance is being done from AI-enhanced thermal cameras capable of detecting fevers, whereas in Thailand, airport officials are piloting a biometric screening system using fever-detecting cameras.
Is isolation good or the new norm?
As the total number of cases, deaths and countries on lockdown increases, we can assume that it will not be exemplary of technology and innovation in response to the on-going crisis. As the day, weeks and months of this outbreak pass by, we will witness more and more AI use cases come to the fore.
The application of AI can play an important role in containing this crisis, and safeguard officials from infection, but we must also remember that it can potentially raise serious human rights concerns which can be damaging and reduce the trust placed in government by communities. Human rights, civil liberties and fundamental laws can be damaged if we do not control this path with great precautions.
Global tech-experts acknowledge that there is a requirement for highly active efforts for confronting the pandemic, but also emphasized that such technology/tools must be limited in use; in terms of purpose and time, and individual rights to privacy, non-discrimination and other freedoms be rigorously protected. This is not easy, but a necessary one. So what can we do?
How to use AI responsibly in fight the covid-19 pandemic?
(1) Data Anonymity: Most countries are tracking suspected patients and their contacts whereas Austria, Belgium, Italy and United Kingdom are collecting anonymous data to track the people’s movement in more general ways. It provide the ability to track the movement of large groups, but also minimizes the risk of infringing data privacy rights for governments.
(2) Purpose Limit: The collected data which is further processed to track the spread of the coronavirus must not be reused for other purposes. Government authorities must ensure that large amounts of personal and medical data are exclusively used for public health reasons. This concept has already been applied in Europe, but it should also become a global principle for AI.
(3) Open Data Access & Knowledge-sharing: UN Secretary-General, has insisted that global action and solidarity are crucial in-terms of wining this fight. Moreover it is applicable on various levels, even in use of AI by law enforcement and security services to fight against COVID-19. All agencies must collaborate with each other along with public and civil society organizations to promote data sharing and transparency.
(4) Time limitation: The end of this pandemic is far away at this point, but it will definitely come to an end and when it does, governing authorities must continue with their new acquired monitoring capabilities. Experts believe that temporary measures can outlast emergencies so we must ensure that the exceptional capability are scaled back and not let to become a new norm.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has given chance for several innovative use cases, as well as sense of urgency for governments to do their best in containment and public safety, it is also important to keep a consideration of fundamental principles, rights and respect for the laws set aside. The positive impact and potential of AI in technological arena is unbelievable. It will definitely help those engaged in fighting this battle to contain the spread of this debilitating disease for saving lives. But we must be committed to stay safe, ethical and responsible use of AI. It is essential that, even in times of great crisis, we remain conscience of the duality of AI and strive to advance AI for good.