The public health crisis surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak has grown so rapidly in recent weeks that it has become increasingly difficult to get reliable information at a time when it’s needed most. The familiar methods that the public usually relies on for information have struggled to keep up with the facts on the ground. As families and businesses adjust to a new and suddenly unfamiliar reality, what they need most is answers to their most pressing questions about the health risks and economic impact of coronavirus. That includes anything from information on best practices, who is most at risk, or what to do if you start to show symptoms of the virus.
That’s why our team at Sorcero has developed COVID BASE, a search tool designed to provide the public with the most up-to-date and scientifically grounded information about COVID-19. Sorcero’s team of natural language processing (NLP) engineers developed COVID BASE over the past few weeks by enlisting medical experts to vet information on the virus using data from trusted sources, and combining that knowledge with an AI capable of interpreting plain language text. The result is a unique online tool capable of providing reliable insights in a way that is accessible and convenient for the average user. COVID BASE is overseen by subject matter experts who answer questions and ensure that answers are correct.
“The Sorcero team saw an urgent, unmet need in the current information ecosystem, and we wanted to contribute something that could help,” said Sorcero’s Founder and CEO Dipanwita Das. “Our team decided to take the systems that we’ve created to help companies manage their important data and apply them to develop a publicly available online portal for high-quality health information.”
COVID BASE can help fulfill a need that traditional search engines can’t. According to a recent study published in the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM), Google has decreased the visibility of health and medical information websites in certain search results over the past two years because they do not meet high ranking criteria. This highlights the difficulty that a general-purpose search engine has dealing with resources that potentially impact people’s health.
“The problem with searching Google for medical information related to a quickly evolving pandemic is that search results are not prioritized by scientific accuracy,” observed Sorcero CTO and former MIT Media Lab Executive Director Walter Bender. “Google search works great for most needs. But when it comes to what’s happening with COVID-19, it is hard to distinguish truth from conjecture. The query responses need to be vetted by a human expert.”
On top of being an accurate information resource, the team at Sorcero also created COVID BASE to be intuitive for the average person. The COVID BASE home screen provides a search bar where users can enter a question, and receive an answer in easy-to-understand language written by the AI. The software learns from every question that is entered, monitoring users’ interactions with the system as they read through answers. COVID BASE understands the queries that are entered in a way that goes beyond basic keyword matching. It is designed to pick up the nuances of human language and detect how certain phrases are being used in relation to common COVID-19 inquiries. As a result, the COVID BASE improves its ability to understand and answer questions the more that users interact with it.
In addition to helping improve access to reliable information, the COVID BASE project gives our AI tools an opportunity to improve. As members of the public use COVID BASE, our AI improves its understanding of how the average person uses medical language. (Note that all interactions with COVID BASE are anonymous and the site uses no cookies or tracking.)
So much about the world has changed in the past few weeks. Like many development teams, we at Sorcero want to use our skills to contribute to the greater good amid so much uncertainty. As a start-up launched with a vision to change how people manage large amounts of data, Sorcero has committed to deploying our enterprise software to help individuals and their families protect themselves with information they can trust. The world will need business innovation to get us through the current public health crisis. The COVID BASE project represents a way for us to use our unique AI programs to fight back against the COVID-19 outbreak, and to get everyone the facts they need so that we can defeat the virus together.