Smart War on COVID-19 and Global Pandemics: Integrated AI and Blockchain Ecosystem

Anil D. Pathak, Debasis Saran,

Sibani Mishra, Madapathi Hitesh,

Sivaiah Bathula, and Kisor K. Sahu

Introduction: COVID-19 in the Era of Modern Technology

The ongoing global pandemic caused by the virus named “SARS-CoV-2” or popularly known as “Coronavirus” (though this is an incorrect nomenclature since it indicates an entire family of viruses, of which SARS-CoV-2 is only one member) has created an unprecedented global health, financial, societal, and humanitarian crisis unforeseen in the post-internet modern era. The unprecedented rapid development in many diverse areas like medical sciences, drug and pharmaceutical research, information and technology, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI) had provided a perfect excuse for a false sense of security and invincibility of the modern-day civilization. It took a concerted effort by a creature that is not even a living organism (the virus is considered an intermediate state between living and dead) to shatter the myth. It has created mayhem throughout the world and even the entire human civilization seems ill-prepared to counter the threat. Therefore, it is imperative to reorient our technological paradigm that is well-prepared to deal with these kinds of situations. This chapter serves the purpose of surveying research articles, articulating emerging trends that are likely to shape the future technological paradigm and keep us prepared to face such eventualities. However, before we start this survey in the next section, let us review the prevailing technological paradigm and identify its critical vulnerabilities.

One of the marvels of modern-day civilization is the internet, which liberated and “democratized” information. While the internet has provided near-universal access (at least in principle), it is associated with lots of challenges. For example, with ready access to information also comes the “disinformation” and at a time of accelerated online fraudulent and even criminal activities. The element of “trust” was the missing piece of the puzzle in this newfound online territory. In a traditional framework, trust is enforced by different regulatory/legal/enforcement agencies in different countries. Disparate legal and enforcement frameworks between countries leads to tremendous heterogeneities across countries, and in general, they are at odds with each other, sometimes even at conflict. However, when the internet emerged toward the end of the previous century, it had little regard for these geographical boundaries, which led to great difficulties in enforcing the jurisdiction of those regulatory agencies over the internet. Therefore, there were desperate needs for development of a technological solution for enforcing “trust” between two or more animate or inanimate agencies in this digital space. In this backdrop, Satoshi Nakamoto (a pseudonym, original name still unknown) presented a whitepaper outlining the first blueprint of “Blockchain,” which is the technical manifestation of building trust in the digital space without the intervention of any central agencies by adopting distributed computing protocol. Therefore, it has the requisite potential to establish trust in the digital space between any two or more agents and make them amenable to perform business/transaction/exchange without bothering to dig very deep to establish their credibility. Blockchain is a record of events which can be shared and accessed by a network of computers. It is managed by a peer-to-peer network that adheres to a protocol for inter-node communication and inclusion of new blocks. They are considered secure by design, because the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks (Zlle and Strazdina 2018).

Another marvel of modern-day technology is the omnipresent role of machine learning (ML) and AI that has dramatically altered the face of humanity. Technically, ML is a subset of AI, but in recent times, ML has grown so much, at times, we will make separate mention of it in order to impart clarity. Today’s digital world is creating data at an unthinkable pace. Harnessing the inherent intelligence hidden deep within this data can create huge potential for new opportunities. It is making our life comfortable, reducing workload, helping to perfect skills, helping humankind in our relentless search for new materials, more effective drugs, just to name a few. It is standing shoulder to shoulder with its human counterpart to make faster discoveries, product development, and marketing. It has brought about unthinkable efficiencies even in many traditional systems. With every passing day, as the research details grow, the amount of data has ascended gigantically, surpassing the ability of human intelligence to handle such enormous data. In this scenario, AI can be useful as it is proficient at identifying patterns from big data. However, AI thrives on a large amount of authentic data. Though the internet is the perfect source for a large amount of data, as we already discussed, there are serious issues about the sanctity of many of these data. We cannot afford to build our critical first line of defense using such a vulnerable source of data. Therefore, it makes the perfect case for marriage between the AI and blockchain for critical and smart infrastructure. A rough sketch of such a type of integrated infrastructure is depicted in Figure 5.1. Though any large-scale deployment of such a futuristic framework to fight pandemics has not happened to the best of our knowledge, it is important to appreciate that all the individual components of this framework are either already developed or at different stages of development.

This chapter focuses on different relevant themes related to emerging technologies in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and is organized as follows. First, in Section 5.2 of this chapter, the importance of artificial intelligence in tracking and forecasting the COVID-19 outbreak in real time is highlighted. Then, the role of decentralized ecosystems in providing a secure environment for data authentication is discussed in Section 5.3 of this chapter. In Section 5.4, the significance of artificial intelligence in the diagnosis and detection of COVID-19 patients has been explored. Section

5.5 focuses on COVID-19 drug discovery using artificial intelligence techniques. The role of the blockchain platform in securing trust among various supply chains such as food and medical supply chains has been discussed in Section 5.6 of this chapter. Section 5.7 of this chapter focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on the world economy. In Section 5.8, some of the recent developments in artificial intelligence

A schematic showing the highly integrated network topology of AI and block- chain that might create a first line of defense against COVID-19 or other pandemics in the future

FIGURE 5.1 A schematic showing the highly integrated network topology of AI and block- chain that might create a first line of defense against COVID-19 or other pandemics in the future.

have been considered, and finally, in Section 5.9, the future outlook of this study has been discussed with concluding remarks.

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