On October 14, 2020 the article “Der Einsatz von Servicerobotern bei Epidemien und Pandemien” (“The use of service robots in epidemics and pandemics”) by Oliver Bendel was published in HMD – Praxis der Wirtschaftsinformatik. From the abstract: “Robots have always been used to carry out dangerous tasks or tasks that are not manageable for us. They defuse bombs, transport hazardous materials and work their way into areas inaccessible to humans. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that even service robots, which are not actually intended for special cases, can provide helpful services in the care of isolated persons and in the containment of diseases. This paper presents four types of service robots. Then it gives examples of robot use during the coronavirus crisis in 2020. Finally, the question in which extent and in what way the robot types can cooperate and whether some of them can be developed into generalists is examined. Business models and operating opportunities are also discussed. The paper shows that cohorts of robots could be vital in the future.” It is part of Volume 57, Issue 6 (December 2020) with a focus on robotics and is available here for free as an open access publication (in German).
Fujitsu has developed an artificial intelligence system that could ensure healthcare, hotel and food industry workers scrub their hands properly. This could support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. “The AI, which can recognize complex hand movements and can even detect when people aren’t using soap, was under development before the coronavirus outbreak for Japanese companies implementing stricter hygiene regulations … It is based on crime surveillance technology that can detect suspicious body movements.” (Reuters, 19 June 2020) Genta Suzuki, a senior researcher at the Japanese information technology company, told the news agency that the AI can’t identify people from their hands, but it could be coupled with identity recognition technology so companies could keep track of employees’ washing habits. Maybe in the future it won’t be our parents who will show us how to wash ourselves properly, but robots and AI systems. Or they save themselves this detour and clean us directly.
According to Gizmodo, a robot from Boston Dynamics has been deployed to a park in Singapore to remind people they should follow social distancing guidelines during the pandemic. Spot is not designed as a security robot, like the K5 or the K3 from Knightscope. But it has other qualities: it can walk on four legs and is very fast. The machine, which was set loose on 8 May 2020 in Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, “broadcasts a message reminding visitors they need to stay away from other humans, as covid-19 poses a very serious threat to our health”. It “was made available for purchase by businesses and governments last year and has specially designed cameras to make sure it doesn’t run into things.” (Gizmodo, 8 May 2020) According to a press release from Singapore’s GovTech agency, the cameras will not be able to track or recognize specific individuals, “and no personal data will be collected” (Gizmodo, 8 May 2020). COVID-19 demonstrates that digitization and technologization can be helpful in crises and disasters. Service robots such as security robots, transport robots, care robots and disinfection robots are in increasing demand.
Artificial intelligence is underestimated in some aspects, but overestimated in many. It is currently seen as a secret weapon against COVID-19. But it most probably is not. The statement of Alex Engler, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow, is clear: “Although corporate press releases and some media coverage sing its praises, AI will play only a marginal role in our fight against Covid-19. While there are undoubtedly ways in which it will be helpful – and even more so in future pandemics – at the current moment, technologies like data reporting, telemedicine, and conventional diagnostic tools are far more impactful.” (Wired, 26 April 2020) Above all, however, it is social distancing that interrupts the transmission paths and thus curbs the spread of the virus. And it’s drugs that will solve the problem this year or next. So there is a need for behavioural adjustment and medical research. Artificial intelligence is not really needed. Alex Engler identified the necessary heuristics for a healthy skepticism of AI claims around Covid-19 and explained them in Wired magazine.
A new WHO chatbot on Rakuten Viber aims to get accurate information about COVID-19 to people in several languages. “Once subscribed to the WHO Viber chatbot, users will receive notifications with the latest news and information directly from WHO. Users can also learn how to protect themselves and test their knowledge on coronavirus through an interactive quiz that helps bust myths. Another goal of the partnership is to fight misinformation.” (Website WHO) Some days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services have launched a chatbot that helps people decide what to do if they have potential Coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. However, this dialog system is only intended for people who are permanently or temporarily in the USA. The new WHO chatbot is freely available in English, Russian and Arabic with more than 20 languages to be added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States Department of Health and Human Services have launched a chatbot that will help people decide what to do if they have potential Coronavirus symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. This was reported by the magazine MIT Technology Review on 24 March 2020. “The hope is the self-checker bot will act as a form of triage for increasingly strained health-care services.” (MIT Technology Review, 24 March 2020) According to the magazine, the chatbot asks users questions about their age, gender, and location, and about any symptoms they’re experiencing. It also inquires whether they may have met someone diagnosed with COVID-19. On the basis of the users’ replies, it recommends the best next step. “The bot is not supposed to replace assessment by a doctor and isn’t intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment purposes, but it could help figure out who most urgently needs medical attention and relieve some of the pressure on hospitals.” (MIT Technology Review, 24 March 2020) The service is intended for people who are currently located in the US. International research is being done not only on useful but also on moral chatbots.
COVID-19 demonstrates that digitization and technologization can be helpful in crises and disasters. In China, service robots deliver medicine and food in hospitals and quarantine stations, and drones track people without breathing masks. Those who has to stay at home can continue to perform their tasks and receive further training via a computer workstation and e-learning applications. Globalisation is a problem in the spread of the virus, but also a solution in combating it: research was immediately carried out worldwide on a drug against SARS-CoV-2. The use of robots and drones in China has been criticised for the loss of privacy. There was also criticism of the fact that the communist party and the media market the use of robots as a chinese success story, but that some of them originate from abroad. Well-known transport robots are, for example, from Starship Technologies and Savioke. Both companies are based in California.