KT Corporation, South Korea’s largest telecommunications company, announced a three-year research study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for ICT-based global epidemic response using artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data.
The 10-million-dollar project stems from the recognition of South Korea‘s advanced information and communication technology (ICT) as well as its proven ability to cope with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The three-year research collaboration builds off discussions between the Gates Foundation and KT in 2019 and the research will be conducted in South Korea, which possesses a high mobile phone penetration rate and 5G infrastructure.
“With this contribution from the Gates Foundation, KT hopes to enhance our opportunity to lead the global effort toward outbreak prevention and response by taking advantage of AI and Big Data,” said Jeon Hongbeom, KT’s head of AI/DX Business Unit. “We also expect to contribute further to the Republic of Korea’s capabilities for epidemic response and preparedness, which has already been globally recognized.”
With Gates Foundation grant funding, KT will develop Big Data algorithms to improve early-diagnosis based on AI during an epidemic and prediction of viral infections spread using mobile data. Research expenses will be divided equally between the two organizations.
“The use of mobile technology and sensors paired with smart data analysis can help address some of the challenges countries face in timely and effective response to disease outbreaks,” said Andrew Trister, deputy director of digital health innovation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Knowing where a disease is moving and being able to predict spread can help save time and save lives. We’re pleased to be providing co-funding alongside Korea Telecom for this consortium of research partners. These will be valuable learnings for South Korea, and applicable to other geographies.”
The collaboration between KT and the Gates Foundation on improving global health has its origins at the data innovation working group by the World Economic Forum in 2018. Since then, the organizations have discussed collaboration on innovative epidemic response using ICT.
In April 2019, KT introduced its Global Epidemic Prevention Platform (GEPP), which is to prevent the spread of infectious diseases using mobile data, at the ICT forum hosted by Research Investment for Global Health Technology Fund (RIGHT Fund), South Korea’s first funding agency dedicated to the Global Health R&D through the partnership between the Korean Government, Life Science companies, and the Gates Foundation, and the RIGHT Fund facilitated the discussions between the parties resulted in this three year partnership.
The project calls for KT to first develop a mobile app to automatically input symptoms typically associated with viral infections. An Internet of Things (IoT) body temperature sensor will be among the tools. Symptoms and body temperature will be analyzed with AI to create an algorithm that will calculate the probability of infection.
KT will also use mobile data to examine human mobility patterns and regions with epidemics to determine the direction of the infection spread. At the same time, it will analyze virus trends by region and develop forecasting models to predict seasonal outbreak for each region.
KT expects the research will contribute to global management of epidemics and pandemics. Technically, it will sound an alarm when an infectious disease appears to help prevent massive outbreaks and improve chances of treatment and survival through self-testing.
On one hand, KT forms a consortium with its domestic partners. Korea University Hospital will be tasked with analyzing pathogen genome sequencing; Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information with forecasting models of viral inflow and proliferation; Mobile Doctor with conducting app-based diagnostic data analysis; and MediBloc with developing a blockchain-based platform for sharing user data.
South Korea’s advanced ICT infrastructure has made decisive contributions to the tract-tracing of virus infection as well as social distancing through work from home, remote education and teleconferencing. Those who are infected are isolated at home and monitored through a smartphone app for “self-quarantine safety protection.”
In the wake of the 2015 outbreak of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), KT developed its GEPP service in collaboration with the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Ministry of Science and ICT. The multifunction platform warns of epidemic outbreaks and offers relevant information to travelers while tracing their movement to help stop disease transmission.
The global health area, where KT is partnering, aims for better public health in developing countries through development and application of innovative solutions.