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China’s giant tech companies join fight against deadly coronavirus

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From cloud-based artificial intelligence to chatbots and even “nurse robots”, Chinese tech companies are distributing wealth, tech skills and huge databases to help fight the coronavirus outbreak, which has so far killed 170 people and infected over 7,000 in all over the country.

The passenger transport company Didi transports health workers to some cities. Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, whose WeChat instant messaging app has over a billion users, has released an outpatient clinic map to help WeChat users locate the nearest clinic.

Meanwhile, Jack Ma, China’s richest man and founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is donating 100 million yuan ($ 14.5 million), of which 40 million will go to Chinese efforts to create a vaccine.

Alibaba, which has partnered with the Beijing-based Global Health Drug Discovery Institute to develop an open source coronavirus data platform, has also made available its AI-based cloud-based computing platform for global institutions to accelerate the viral gene sequencing, protein detection and other investigations necessary to treat or prevent disease.

“This money will help several medical research efforts and help prevent disease,” said the Ma Foundation in a statement.

Although the initiatives come from private companies, Beijing has long made the development of artificial intelligence, aided by the large amount of data it collects about its citizens, a national strategic priority.

“Artificial intelligence technologies can accurately detect, predict and provide timely warnings of important situations,” prophesied a 2017 National Council plan, “which will significantly increase the capacity and level of social governance, playing a role irreplaceable in the effective maintenance of social stability “.

Indeed, Baidu, the search engine company, is using its data to help locate suspect patients and map the flow of citizens to all Chinese cities, including Wuhan. (In Singapore, Grab and Gojek, two major passenger transport companies in Southeast Asia, provide similar information on passenger mapping to local authorities.)

Hong Kong-based SenseTime, the world’s leading artificial intelligence software developer whose products are often used for surveillance, is also helping Beijing develop an algorithm that aims to improve the accuracy of identifying patients with fever. in the middle of the Bytedance crowd, the owner of the viral multimedia application TikTok, meanwhile, is contributing with financial assistance.

The commitment of Chinese technology companies occurs when the number of coronavirus cases in China exceeded the number of infections in the country during the SARS epidemic in 2002/03.

Since the first coronavirus patient was identified in early December, more than 7,800 cases have been reported worldwide, as the virus has spread to at least 18 regions outside mainland China, including the last United Arab Emirates.

Not all Chinese initiatives concern the latest high-tech technologies, although many do.

To help scientists speed up the process of finding a cure, Baidu said Thursday that he had developed an artificial intelligence system that could shorten the time it takes to scan viruses from almost an hour to less than half a minute. In addition to providing the solution for free, the company also donated 300 million yuan to help research the epidemic. This week, China-based Clover Biopharmaceuticals said it had started developing a vaccine.

These Chinese vaccine development initiatives are being conducted alongside separate projects of the Coalition for Outbreak Preparation Innovations, a global body set up in Norway three years ago to combat epidemics.

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