Geospatial data and technologies played an important role in managing the pandemic since its outbreak; and its role will be paramount as the world reopens.
If “lockdown” was one of the top trends on Google in the past few months, it must be the word “reopening” now. After being brought to a grinding halt since March, the world seems to be getting ready to live with the virus, as it takes baby steps towards reopening. The Covid-19 pandemic has infected about 7 million people globally and killed around 400,000 already, including more than 100,000 deaths in the US alone, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. But the world seems to have also realized that it can’t permanently live locked down, crippled with the fear of the virus. And some form of economic activity must begin to sustain. Even in countries which are yet to the touch peak, such as the United States or India, governments are talking about turning a new leaf in the pandemic response — moving from crisis mode to sustained mitigation and management.
If geospatial data and technologies played an important role in managing the pandemic since its outbreak, its role will be paramount as the world reopens. More so because the danger isn’t over yet and lurks in every corner. As Dr Este Geraghty, Chief Medical Officer, Esri underlines in this blog, “Leaders at all levels of government and business can use geospatial technology to help monitor and safeguard public health. Building on response efforts — where GIS technology supported clear steps to take action — the same capabilities can guide safe reopening strategies.”
There hasn’t been a better time for authorities to apply and utilize the full benefits of this technology. Location analytics provide useful tools to model behaviors and inform actions. From maps that analyze the genetic profile of the virus as it spreads, to AI techniques that make sense of human movement data, geospatial technologies can enhance not only our understanding of viral transmission and communities at risk but also give answers to businesses to operate in a “new normal” world.
Geospatial and AI
Machine Learning and data mining, aided by high powered computing, form the foundation of Geospatial AI, or simply GeoAI, with geospatial science also offering the tools and technologies (right from sensors capturing location data to GIS or Location Intelligence systems) that help experts to visualize, understand and analyze real-world phenomena according to particular locations.
GeoAI is increasingly being used to model and capture the environment around us, linking locations in which we live and work, or people/elements we interact with, to explore their potential role in influencing health outcomes. There is also extensive research into GeoAI being used for hypothesis generation, conducting new data linkages and predicting disease occurrence. Evaluation of hypotheticals helps people answer questions like “what if” — What if there were no stay at home orders? What if we open restaurants? What if we open public transport? This facilitates the evaluation of potential policy decisions.
GeoAI and Big Data
Advancements in AI have also seen a growing interest in real-time syndromic surveillance based on social media data. Further, information from ride sharing services such as Uber, Lyft, Ola cabs can also be a novel source of data to add to this Big Data pool. As to how big this data is could be gauged from the fact that as of 2019, there were roughly 75 million active Uber riders across the world. Location is a key aspect of ride sharing as it relates to pick-ups and drops — giving insights into mobility data.
The COVID-19 pandemic has very firmly established the need for geospatial and location information and technologies in not just the health sector but every field. However, there is more that could be done with the use of GeoAI. But this can be only possible with collaborations, since it is difficult for governments, policy-makers and other leaders to sort through all of the new companies, initiative and solutions available out there. There is also a greater need to modernize and standardize our data systems in a way that allows for data sharing when needed, such as local governments and hospitals moving relevant data up the chain to provide a national picture.
Further, we also need to be mindful that this crisis poses a bigger threat to the developing and underdeveloped world, as the data gap between hyper-digitized and under-connected countries continues to widen. With data assuming unprecedented significance, the key to sustainable development for all lies in better connectivity and collaboration.