The world’s society, economy, and scientific research efforts have been strongly affected by COVID-19 since it plagued the globe in 2020. More than 80 million people are infected with COVID-19 around the world up to the end of 2020. Countries have encountered economic recessions due to the pandemic. To contain the virus, governments around the world have been implementing different epidemic prevention measures, such as imposing lockdown, social distance, as well as strengthening the public health system including entry screening and contact tracing, in the hope to decrease the growth of mortality rate and the spread of the virus.
Despite its harm to society, the pandemic has accelerated the progress of research and development of vaccine and drugs in many countries and brought attention to Open Access of research results in the science community. Meanwhile, COVID-19 also leads to the enhancement of intelligent and digital applications in order to reduce the risk of physical contact. Altogether, it shows that science and technology play an important role when it comes to combating life-threatening diseases.
Public Health Measures and Communicable Disease Control
Looking at the diseases caused by coronavirus, such as SARS in 2003 and COVID-19 in 2020, they have not only affected our lives and health but also reformed the epidemic prevention system and brought the development of new technology. After the SARS outbreak in 2003 and other emerging viral infections such as Avian Influenza, the Taiwanese government learned from the past experiences and integrated the resources medical and communicable disease control to establish a comprehensive public health system to prevent the spread of contagious disease.
The government began to promote the domestic emerging viral infections research projects by funding research programs, such as Program Project on Avian Influenza and Human Pandemic Influenza (AIHPI Project) from 2006 to 2009. The spread of epidemic disease became more common due to climate change and other factors such as globalization. Therefore, the government considered the emerging viral infections research as a part of national security and conducted The Study of the Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Disease in Taiwan. The research topics included zoonosis, zoonotic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases. And the research contents consisted of pathogenesis, therapy strategy, and vaccine development, etc.
Based on abundant research experience and the establishment of the disease control system, Taiwan has shown its agility in combating COVID-19. During the pandemic, experienced research groups in Taiwan provide professional suggestions on disease control, study the pathogenesis of coronavirus, and develop rapid test kits and vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus.
Open Access x Artificial Intelligence: Disease Control Prevention
Facing the unknown virus and disease, the research community has started to value open access to research results. World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that open access to scientific data and research results could help accelerate vaccine development and disease control by sharing public health knowledge and successful disease control measures. Some for-profit academic publishers like Elsevier, Springer Nature, and Wiley, declared that they would provide the most up to date COVID-19 research results for free. Moreover, the US government is under collaboration with Allen Institute for AI, Microsoft and National Library of Medicine in conducting COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19). The dataset offers more than 50 thousand pieces of COVID-19 paper and applies AI technology to speed up the literature search. It can help fast-track the development of vaccine and test kits, and policymakers can find useful information and data as soon as possible.
AI and big data can be applied to not only open access to data but drug screen, chest X-ray interpretation, and virus strain classification and interpretation. Taiwan AI Labs used big data and AI to establish the virus database, track the epidemic, interpret COVID-19 patients’ chest X-rays, and build the drug repurposing platform, etc. These data are open to the public online and provided to international scholars to circulate information.
Industry Intellectualization Under the Pandemic
Since the pandemic has affected people’s daily lives and works, the world has recognized the importance of industry digitalization and intellectualization. The industry reevaluates the supply chain management risk and tries to implement automation and robotics so that the manufacturing process could be digitalized to get ready to face future challenges in the market.
COVID-19 causes global supply chain disruption and leads to supply chain restructure. Although it brings challenges to Taiwan’s industries, it offers opportunities for transformation. Zero-contact economy and smart remote work industries became the trend due to the pandemic. Intelligent machinery not only could decrease the employers’ contact opportunity but also alleviates the labor shortage problem due to the aging society and low birth rate. On the other side, applying smart machinery into the industry could increase production efficiency and enhance innovative industrial values. For example, AI applications can increase supply chain management efficiency and the ability to respond to market changes immediately.
In fact, Taiwan’s industry intellectualization and automation have already commenced before the outbreak of the pandemic, which is why Taiwan’s manufacturing industry can react at once on face masks and personal protection equipment production under the pandemic. In 2016, Taiwan implemented the Smart Machinery Industry Promotion Program. Through cloud systems, big data, IoT and robot technologies, and other Industry 4.0 technologies, the precision machinery industry has been upgraded to the smart machinery industry to establish a complete industry ecosystem.
The social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is like World War II. People are suffering under the pandemic, and lots of enterprises are closed due to the shrink of global consumption demands. However, it has also brought to the development of the high technology industry, such as IoT, AI, and telehealth. The pandemic reshaped people’s lives and bring the opportunity for us to rethink that in the technology era, have we ignored the value of coexistence with nature and depended on technology, and overlooked human communication? We should keep the lessons that COVID-19 taught us in our minds and take advantage of technology and human wisdom to coexist with nature in the post-pandemic era.