News and Analysis of the Global Innovation Scene


Pandemic Spotlights AI’s Rising Role in Health Care

The recent COVID-19 pandemic provided a showcase for artificial intelligence (AI) technology’s uses in health care, from researching cures to triaging patients and predicting the disease’s spread and peaks. But medical AI—incorporating neural networks, deep-learning algorithms, and predictive models—was already on the rise and had a flood of investment into ways to harness big data for pharmaceutical and other research, improve diagnostic testing such as imaging analysis, and automate administrative tasks to free up doctors and nurses to spend more time with patients.


EU Scientists Unite Against Corona

The European science community has vigorously heeded the call for a united effort to fight the deadly coronavirus, in an all but unified European Union. Despite moves by several political leaders to seal off their borders, researchers across the region have razed theirs, embracing a global collaboration unlike any in history. Otmar Wiestler, president of the Helmholtz Association, one of Germany’s four leading non-university research organizations, has referred to scientists’ response to the pandemic as a “unique, profound, global field experiment that has never been done before.”


An Engine of Innovation

As the COVID-19 virus surged out of central China and threatened individuals’ health worldwide, the medical community called for the development of rapid tests to detect the presence of the virus. E25Bio, a startup working on rapid diagnostic tests for such epidemic diseases as dengue fever, chikungunhya, and Zika, created an early candidate. Using so-called lateral flow technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, E25Bio adapted its approach to detect the virus simply and rapidly. Resembling an over-the-counter pregnancy test, the method provides visual evidence of the presence of the COVID-19 virus within 15 minutes. That contrasts with the day-long wait necessary for tests based on the traditional approach that uses the polymerase chain reaction. In April 2020 E25Bio submitted its test to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.


Emotional Rescue: AI’s Role in Our Inner Lives

New artificial intelligence (AI)–driven commercial applications that analyze and respond to your emotions leave little doubt that AI will increasingly probe, analyze, and manipulate our inner lives. MIT has programmed an AI robot for children, for example, which tailors how it teaches a child vocabulary based on how they emotionally react to the robot. Neurotechnology company Brain Power is developing a smart eyeglass–based system—complete with AI emotion feedback—to help instill crucial social and cognitive skills in autistic children and adults. Carmakers Porsche, Daimler, and BMW are working with emotion AI pioneer Affectiva to find ways to add AI emotion sensors to car cabins. Their goal is get inside the hearts and minds of drivers and passengers so the companies can adjust their car designs and marketing accordingly.