Why Didn’t AI Save Us from Coronavirus?

The  coronavirus pandemic is bringing out all kinds of low tech solutions. Homemade fabric masks are the strongest line of defense and stickers on the floor guide social distancing. Robots have been lauded as practical solutions for overstretched healthcare staff, but so far all they have done is to fetch and carry things.

Not cutting edge.

AI hasn’t accomplished much of anything with COVID-19. Machines can’t actually think, after all. Machine learning requires a lot of data to work with and a lot of time and programming. Human scientists have had some flashes of brilliance with the data that has been trickling in since December, but nobody was ready with anything that could actually work with a new virus.

There have been suggestions of things AI could theoretically help with, from helping schools with remote learning to caring for the elderly. Unfortunately, though all these suggestions are things that AI has been promising for years, it turns out that none of them has ever been developed to the point of usefulness.

Thermal cameras can kind of tell who might have a high fever, but the real problems with diagnosis and treatment ended up being a severe shortage of the swabs needed for testing and American unwillingness to follow instructions.

AI can’t fix those problems.


Offshoring was definitely part of the problem. Ventilators, medical-grade masks, basic medications, and other essential supplies often couldn’t be sourced in the United States. Unfortunately, recognizing the problem don’t quickly lead to solutions. A nation as good at manufacturing as the United States should have been able to turn around and get back to work, but that didn’t happen.

Raw materials and packaging couldn’t even be sourced in the U.S. once factories were found to do the manufacturing. Workers were also in short supply. All those years of offshoring have left a long shadow over American production.

MIT Technology Review has a suggestion, too. Maybe we’re just out of the habit of innovating. A focus on doing things as cheaply as possible has cost us a lot in research and development. Even the innovators often just get as far as proof of concept before turning their focus to funding. New ideas in robotics abound, but most never get off the drawing board.


Some observers are saying that AI is overhyped and doesn’t really have much to offer. Others focus on the flaws in the American healthcare system.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the way we’re building automation in the United States. In the meantime, if your Rexroth drive and control systems need support, we can help. Call for immediate assistance.

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