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This article was published on April 21, 2020

AI isn’t going to save you from yourselves

AI isn’t going to save you from yourselves
Tristan Greene
Story by

Tristan Greene

Editor, Neural by TNW

Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: Tristan is a futurist covering human-centric artificial intelligence advances, quantum computing, STEM, physics, and space stuff. Pronouns: He/him

Coronavirus in Context is a weekly newsletter where we bring you facts that matter about the COVID-19 pandemic and the technology trying to stop its spread. You can subscribe here.

Hola pandemic pals,

I want to start this week’s newsletter off with some good news: The curve appears to be flattening!

That being said, we’re also at our most vulnerable point in the pandemic. How we respond over the next month will probably decide whether we get to stop social-distancing in 2020.

Medical experts overwhelmingly agree prematurely ending social distancing efforts would most likely lead to a second-wave pandemic. But most think we could pull through this by summer if we stay the course.

For those who believe the biggest threat we face from COVID-19 is economic and financial ruin on a global, local, and/or personal level: economic and financial experts overwhelmingly agree that a second wave pandemic would be catastrophic compared to waiting it out.

Then there’s those of you who believe that we should use technology to split the difference. You’re the ones who scare me the most.

The idea goes like this: We train AI to see COVID-19 symptoms and then use cameras to monitor public spaces. If someone’s tagged as having a fever, for example, the AI could send an alert to local first-responders so the threat could be removed from public. We install these cameras (or whatever other automated sensor we come up with) all over the place and, most importantly, at the entry and exit of every commercial, industrial, and government building on the planet.

On paper this seems like a safe, effective way to get us back to work without risking everyone’s lives. It’s a win-win right?

Not so much. Consider this: onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a US Navy aircraft carrier recently ravaged by COVID-19, more than 60% of those who tested positive for the virus showed no symptoms.

The Theodore Roosevelt has a crew of 4,800, which makes this one of the largest populations to receive 100% testing for the coronavirus.

A two-in-three asymptomatic infection rate means there is no currently viable method by which AI, or any other current technology, can “scan” the general population for coronavirus.

Thermometers are not an effective way to screen for COVID-19.

Until we develop a vaccine, the only smart move is social-distancing. And we don’t need an artificially intelligent computer to tell us that.

But, if it’d make you feel better: MIT’s super-accurate AI also agrees that prematurely ending social-distancing would be catastrophic.

By the numbers

2,512,902 : Total infected world wide
173,420: Total reported deaths (estimated mortality rate: 7%) )
660,196: Total reported recoveries (estimated recovery rate: 93% with 26% of all estimated cases currently considered fully recovered)

What to read

Alibaba and the WWE, and George Packer’s taking shots that US government
? Facebook’s finally using survey data for good: it made a map of COVID-19 symptoms by county after surveying its users. I still don’t trust it though.
? Google and Apple want to use Bluetooth to anonymously let you know if there’s someone nearby with COVID-19 symptoms. (NBC News)
? Chinese tech giant Alibaba will spend $24 billion to make the internet faster while everyone’s quarantined.
? Florida deemed World Wrestling Entertainment an “essential service,” so wrestlers could go back to work. This is a stupid idea, let’s just all watch WWE Network classics online instead. (CNN)
? Watch out! Scammers are trying to trick you out of your stimulus payment with fake web sites.
? EU tech startups are beginning to feel the effects as US money starts drying up amid pandemic worries.
? Facebook will start letting users know if they were exposed to misinformation related to coronavirus.
? George Packer says the US’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been what you’d expect from a struggling nation with shoddy infrastructure. He’s not wrong. (The Atlantic)


We know, we know… there are a million articles out there on how to stay sane at home: What yoga moves to do, what sourdough bread to bake, how to pick up a phone and actually call someone… so we’re adding to the noise!

In this section, one of our writers will share one weird internet thing they’ve been obsessing over while in lockdown. I’ve been letting my colleagues share their obsessions, but this week it’s my turn.

My internet fixation lately has been the WWE Network. Wait, hear me out. I’m not exactly a wrestling fan either. But as far as online entertainment subscriptions go, this one’s great if you can get past the whole wrasslin’ bit.

I picked up the WWE story in the year 2001. My research told me that long-time fans, by and large, seem to think that was the pinnacle of the golden age called “The Attitude Era.”

The characters are over the top and unlike anything on similar modern programs, but my eyes are usually on the audience. It’s surreal to see so many people together as we sit here during a pandemic. But for me, the only real selling point is the early 2000s nostalgia. It’s the way the fans look and act that really entrances me.

By the end of a two-hour episode, I’m transported back to 2001 by the mullets and “eXtreme sports” getups. I want to wear super baggy jeans with a tight basketball jersey while listening to a CD-R full of Lil Jon and Blink 182 tracks.

WWE Network is like a time-machine with a never-ending supply of entertainment (every PPV and show from WWF, WWE, WCW, and ECW ever, going back to the early 80s and including the most recent). If you’re looking for something that’ll make you forget about the pandemic for a few hours at a time, you could do a lot worse than some belly laughs at the ridiculous world of sports entertainment.


We’ll be back next Tuesday. Until then, try to keep your head up. It’s been a long quarantine and we’re not done yet.

Here’s a few links to help you make the most of your time in quarantine, and get you through to the end:

Meet Bella. An AI chat bot that’s here to help you through the pandemic

Here’s a coronavirus charity navigator

A coronavirus cheat sheet to help you navigate your every freak out

Don’t believe everything you read on social media. Stay healthy and take care of each other.

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