A Toronto-based AI software company spotted COVID-19 several days before the general public knew about it.
The company, BlueDot, conducts infectious disease surveillance to track and contextualize infectious diseases. On December 30th, the company’s AI platform noticed a cluster of “unusual pneumonia” cases in Wuhan, China.
The system flagged the cluster, which would soon become known as the centre of the outbreak of COVID-19. Nine days after the system flagged the cluster, the World Health Organization alerted people about the virus.
Kamran Khan, the founder and CEO of BlueDot, told CNBC that the company “didn’t know at that moment that this was going to be something of this magnitude.”
Once the AI discovers a disease outbreak, BlueDot sends out alerts to healthcare and governments about the potential risks. In terms of the COVID-19 outbreak, BlueDot used global airline ticketing data to determine where infected people in Wuhan would be travelling to and potentially infecting others.
Khan told CNBC that he was inspired to create BlueDot after his experience as a physician and epidemiologist treating patients in Toronto during the SARS outbreak in 2003.
He says that “where humans can easily get distracted, we can have a machine continuously keeping an eye on everything else that’s going on.”
COVID-19 has spread to 58 countries and infected more than 90,000 people worldwide, including 30 in Canada at the time of writing.