The World Forum - July 21st, 2024

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This COVID-detecting AI can play Sherlock Holmes for other conditions, too


In a race against time to learn about a virus that was ravaging the planet, Canada, like many other countries, devoted millions of dollars to COVID-19 research over the course of the pandemic. In a recurring series, the Star looks at some of the unexpected boons yielded by that research.

In a whimsical sort of way, Ashkan Ebadi thinks of his COVID-detecting artificial intelligence as a kind of virtual Sherlock Holmes.

Like the famed detective, the AI searches for clues; only its sleuthing is through medical imagery to seek out the presence of COVID.

Also like Holmes, it sometimes has to work with skimpy information, so it must use its powers of deduction to arrive at a diagnosis.

While its ability to do just that has changed the way we think about early diagnosis of COVID, there’s also a twist in the tale: the techniques it uses — its powers of deduction — can also be adapted to the early diagnosis of other conditions, including cancer, tuberculosis and pulmonary fibrosis, say its creators.

And despite the mistrust of artificial intelligence in some circles, that ability might also create the means for people living in Canada’s remote communities to have a wide range of conditions diagnosed without having to travel for hours to see specialist.