Alibaba Group is offering Europe’s health systems a cloud-based coronavirus diagnostic tool it says it has successfully tried in China’s hospitals.
The move by billionaire co-founder Jack Ma’s technology giant comes amid a bigger push by China to promote its efforts to contain the pandemic that started in the city of Wuhan. The company said it presented its machine-learning software for chest scans to health-care representatives in France and Italy.
In early February, Alibaba Group’s research institute DAMO Academy developed an AI-enabled system that could diagnose Covid-19 in 20 seconds with 96% accuracy.
The AI system identifies the novel virus through computed tomography scans of the chest. The algorithm has been trained with data and CT scans from more than 5,000 confirmed coronavirus cases so far and taps into deep learning to study patterns of infection.
Alizila reached out to DAMO’s AI-algorithm expert Xu Minfeng for a phone conversation about the artificial-intelligence tool and how it can help doctors during the health crisis.
The AI system does two things: One is to track treatment responses in confirmed cases, and the other is to provide diagnoses for suspected cases.
Alibaba says that hospitals from regions surrounding the epicenter of the outbreak are tapping into the system’s second function more frequently. They send in scans of suspected cases to determine their chances of infection. The system classifies the results into confirmed coronavirus, the common flu, or other respiratory diseases.
A CT machine typically has to produce 300 to 400 chest scans per patient to start the diagnosis of Covid-19. It would take even a very experienced doctor 10-15 minutes to go through such massive amounts of information, but trained AI systems can go through the scans in 20 to 30 seconds.
The system is now being used by 26 hospitals in China and has helped diagnose over 30,000 cases.
As Europe becomes the epicenter of the virus, Beijing’s diplomatic and material efforts in the fight against the outbreak coincide with what’s seen as an attempt by the Trump administration to distance itself from the region.
On Wednesday, Alibaba published a “digital handbook” to “share their learnings from screening, to diagnosis and treatment of patients who contracted COVID-19, as well as sanitation and facility management.” It also proposed a cloud-based information sharing platform for doctors.