Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recently developed an easy and quick way to determine whether individuals are healthy or Covid19 positive, but asymptomatic. Still in its early stages the solution comes in the form of an algorithm that was taught to detect a Covid-19 cough that is otherwise impossible for human ears to discern.
MIT scientists say people who have Covid19 or even if they are asymptomatic may have a cough that is different from healthy individuals, which they have taught an algorithm to detect through “forced-cough recordings.”
People who think they are not Covid19 positive because they have no symptoms are the ones who are responsible for much of the virus’s spread. This innovation could help communities in limiting the spread of the virus and can help in reopening gathering places like restaurants, pubs, offices, and educational institutions.
The researchers taught the algorithm by feeding it forced-cough sounds and, in some instances, spoken words from more than 70,000 people who provided 200,000 samples. They say the algorithm can be accurately identified as Covid cough like, a cough coming from a person who was known to be Covid19 positive — 98.5% of the time and identified asymptomatic people 100% of the time.
Think you’re asymptomatic? Cough into a phone, and this AI can listen to your voice to detect if you have Covid-19.
Scientists hope to turn the app into an FDA-approved prescreening tool.
— MIT CSAIL (@MIT_CSAIL) October 29, 2020
If it gets the approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), MIT scientists plan to launch the algorithm as a free phone app, which could enable people to simply fake-cough into their devices before deciding if they want to step out for a social event or go into their office or educational institution.
The app would give the user instant information based on the sound of their cough, either by issuing an all-clear or raising a red flag for the person to get a medical test and refrain from exposing others.
Scientists stress, the app would not be a diagnostic tool, but will be just a way to let a user know their cough sounds different from a healthy cough. Other infections, such as the flu, could also be a reason behind a red-flag cough. The app will at least instill a deeper state of vigilance in the user, scientists hope.
This is the lasted algorithm that MIT has developed among many that have tried to map health sounds, including coughs and words, for diseases such as pneumonia.
For Covid19 especially, Cambridge University’s Covid19 Sounds project found it could identify positive Covid19 cases 80% of the time based on breath and cough sounds. But the project’s source pool at the time of reporting was merely 459 samples; it has now increased to 30,000 people.
“It’s the same principle as feeding a machine a lot of X-rays so it learns to detect cancer,” artificial-intelligence expert Calum Chace told the BBC. “It’s an example of AI being helpful. And, for once, I don’t see a lot of downside in this.”