With more than 5.4 million confirmed cases of the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and with more than a quarter-million deaths attributed to the disease, as of writing, in the United States, several schools and states are gearing up to open up and start classes this fall.
Though some authorities push for it, parents’ anxiety levels are off the rough for fear that their children might get sick and catch the disease inside the classroom. Several states have announced dates for their planned reopening of institutes of learning which pushed several school districts and administrators to resort to technology to ensure the safety of their students – in particular, through the use of artificial intelligence (AI).
How do companies try to turn a buck during the COVID-19 pandemic? Several of them have started to retrofit their current AI technology to fit the school setting to ensure the school can be a much safer place and reduce the hazards and risks present to ensure a smooth learning experience.
One of the tell-tale signs that someone has COVID-19 is having a fever. That’s why some establishments are required to take the temperatures of their patrons before being allowed access to its premises. But how can you take it on a much larger scale, for this instance a school with possibly hundreds of people, mainly students and teachers, flocking to get to their classes every day? It may seem impossible at first but an AI company is currently partnered with a private school in Las Vegas in solving this problem.
Remark Holdings provide an AI system to the school which checks the person’s temperature before they are allowed to enter the school grounds. If they have a normal temperature, they are allowed to enter. However, if they have a higher temperature, they will be not allowed to enter. They’ll be checked again after ten minutes. If they are still above the prescribed temperature, they will be barred to enter and will be sent home immediately. But if they happen to have a new reading that is well within the allowed reading, then they will be given permission to enter.
It is worth mentioning that there are also patients of COVID-19 that are asymptomatic – meaning they do not exhibit the tell-tale signs that they have it which may include but isn’t limited to fever, dry cough, and tiredness. That is why wearing masks and practicing social distancing measures are important to protect oneself and others.
The company Avigilon, owned by Motorola Solutions, has an AI technology wherein it can analyze and check if students are practicing social distancing. Also, another company named Actuate has been retrofitting its technology to meet the needs of the schools wanting to monitor social distancing measures.
How the two companies’ AIs works are that they try to analyze the number of people through surveillance in order to avoid getting lumps of individuals in traffic and congested to a specific area in the school.
Other companies plan to make this technology available as you wear them – in the form of different wearable devices you can bring wherever you are.
There are other tech companies are also introducing AI that can detect whether someone is wearing a facemask as they are still inside the school premises.
These AIs are really costly and come with a hefty price tag but there are applications that you can download on your smartphone which is cheap and user-friendly. There are contact tracing applications made available for people to download and use them to report cases or symptoms if they experience it themselves. Some universities and schools in different states have encouraged their students to download and use these apps in the absence of pricey AI tech in their local schools.
The question of privacy with these AIs
It is no doubt that these AIs will make monitoring and ensuring a safe learning environment a lot easier of local school and community authorities but the issue of how the data gathered will be handled is an issue that needs to be considered seriously.
Amelia Vance, in a statement provided to Rebecca Heilweil on their report on website Vox, has found these technologies ‘useful’ but didn’t downplay the issue of privacy concerns that these AIs come with.
These may be helpful in the time being but the way companies gather and collect data may cause a potential threat to a child’s safety and privacy. It may be the best case to resort to these technologies in the meantime but we should remain cautious and highly vigilant as our schools' gear towards the new normal.