Technology has opened a window of opportunity

China’s efforts in fighting the novel coronavirus, as well as its technology interventions, including leveraging artificial intelligence, have grabbed world attention. This has also opened a window of opportunity to the world.

The window opened when China first reported to the World Health Organization about cases of unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Dec 31, confirmed on Jan 5 that the virus was not SARS, announced a new virus belonging to the coronavirus family on Jan 7, and placed Wuhan under lockdown on Jan 23.

China’s efforts to battle the virus have also opened a window of opportunity from a new dimension: pioneering new technologies, including AI.

AI has played a key role in COVID-19 prevention and control, as well as diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

It has been applied in big cities and small towns, and in key provincial and municipal hospitals. Going beyond the technology centers, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, AI application is increasing in central and western regions: Anhui, Sichuan, Yunnan and Henan provinces.

Thousands of instances of AI use have emerged of late. Alibaba Group, China’s e-commerce giant, for instance, has developed an AI system that can detect the presence of coronavirus with 96 percent accuracy in 20 seconds by assessing CT scans, in contrast to 15 minutes required by humans.

In addition, AI applications are deployed for early response. Alibaba’s DAMO Academy only needed five days to deliver an intelligent robot that assists in online inquiry and consultation. An AI-supported COVID-19 public service and management platform was launched by Zhejiang province on Jan 27.

On March 2, the Ministry of Science and Technology launched a COVID-19 technology information sharing and service platform.

Identifying the enablers of China’s success can help other countries to seize the new window of opportunity. There are various reasons behind China’s success.

First is the adoption of a national policy. As early as in 2012, an innovation-driven development strategy was adopted by the government. It emphasized that scientific and technological innovation is pivotal to improving productivity.

In 2017, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, announced the New Generation of Artificial Intelligence Development Plan, which outlined China’s strategy to develop AI as a national priority.

Second is the adoption of a science and technology-oriented response strategy.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology released guidelines for using AI to support COVID-19 epidemic control on Feb 4, which marked the first time that AI was used during a large-scale public health emergency.

On March 16, President Xi Jinping emphasized that science and technology are the most powerful weapons in battling COVID-19, and humans’ victory over disaster and epidemics depends on scientific development and technological innovation.

On March 21, the Ministry of Science released guidelines for using science and technology to support the resumption of work and to stabilize economic development.

Third is the adoption of innovation culture. In 2015, China launched a mass entrepreneurship and innovation initiative, which mobilized hundreds of millions of market players and stimulated social creativity. It has created a supporting environment for technology entrepreneurs and innovators, and cultivated citizens’ interest in technology and innovation.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said the epidemic situation is reversing in China, and the virus is retreating. “Other countries should make full use of the window of opportunity brought by China’s efforts to contain the virus as soon as possible.”

The window of opportunity is narrowing on the time front, but on the technology side, the window of opportunity is widening for a community with a shared future for mankind.

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