The COVID-19 pandemic has led to some unexpected advances in technologies, as countries innovate in the fight to beat the virus. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one area that’s benefitted from the outbreak in Saudi Arabia.

Novel healthcare initiatives need supporting technology to facilitate effective delivery. Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to embrace innovative technologies to help in the COVOD-19 effort. AI has been effectively applied to assist with early detection of infection and in rapid and accurate diagnosis. AI’s greatest impact comes through seeing links and correlations that are impossible (or impossibly time consuming) for humans to identify. To bolster Saudi Arabia’s fight against the virus, AI was applied to scrutinise medical records (such as infection rates), but also social media, flight details, even school absences and sales of some medications. The AI tools can have online chats with patients, though can deal with numbers of discussions orders of magnitude greater than humans alone can manage.

Despite a growing number of examples where AI has had a significant positive impact, the technology, though, hasn’t yet reached its full potential. Organisation is still a missing part of the puzzle in many cases. The technological capability, for example, already exists to identify and track COVID-19 outbreaks. We can use location data from mobile phones, we can instantly assess capacity for hospital beds, ultimately identifying those most at risk of infection or serious disease. The proactivity needed to get systems in place to coordinate these technologies is still behind the curve.

In Saudi Arabia, many of these necessary relationships were rapidly developed to ensure a joined up approach to tackling the coronavirus outbreak, linking a series of apps to behind-the-scenes technology management systems.

To build on the functionality of such systems, better and more relevant data collection is vital. To make the right decisions, high quality data on health parameters and demographics must be combined with the already available telecommunications information and this requires collaboration between organisations that currently aren’t connected.