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Israel builds survey-reading AI that predicts coronavirus outbreaks

Algorithms analyze the responses to map the pandemic

As coronavirus cases in Israel surge past 1,200, researchers in the country are predicting where it will spread next analyzing responses to questionnaires with AI.

After members of the public report their condition, algorithms evaluate their answers to connect symptoms to locations. The results are then displayed on a map showing the clusters of infection where the virus is spreading.

Public healthcare officials can use these insights to focus on areas where another outbreak is likely.

Governments outside of Israel are already using the system, according to the Weizmann Institute of Science, which developed the method alongside the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israeli Health Ministry.

[Read: This startup will map the coronavirus spread by looking at your poo]

“These questionnaires are the only tool that can present a general picture of the virus’s outbreak across the country,” said Weizmann Institute of Science Professor Eran Segal.

Trials offer nope

The online questionnaires collect basic demographic data, information on symptoms, existing health issues, and isolation status.

Around 60,000 Israelis have already filled them out for a pilot of the system launched last week. The early results predictably reveal a significant increase in symptoms in places visited by confirmed coronavirus patients.

Professor Segal emphasized that the method is not intended to replace coronavirus testing, which Israel is rapidly expanding.

Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said that Israel will be carrying out an average of 3,000 tests per day this week and 5,000 by next week. She expects that number to reach 10,000 per day in a fortnight.

Israel has built up a significant stockpile of testing kits, bolstered by a covert international operation launched by the Mossad intelligence agency last week to fly in up to 100,000 coronavirus testing kits.

The country has sent 200 testing kits to the occupied territory of Gaza, which last week confirmed announced the first two cases of COVID-19. Far more will be needed for Gaza’s beleaguered healthcare system to supports its 2 million people as the pandemic spreads across the territory.

Published March 23, 2020 — 13:01 UTC

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