By Sharon Daniels
As governors begin to make decisions about reopening the economy, Americans are left to wonder whether they should follow their state government’s lead – or make their own decisions about when to return to normal.
One problem for the average person: How to decipher the multitudes of data about COVID-19 and evaluate whether the country or any particular state is – or is not – flattening the curve.
“It’s easy to find tons of data online with charts and graphs, but all those numbers can be overwhelming,” says Sharon Daniels, chief executive officer of Arria (www.arria.com), which specializes in a form of artificial intelligence known as Natural Language Generation (NLG). “You see a line on a graph, but what is it telling you?”
Daniels’ company is among those trying to simplify that complex chore for Americans, using artificial intelligence to transform that raw data into an easy-to-understand narrative. To this end, Arria is involved with two online initiatives – the COVID-19 Live Report and the COVID-19 U.S. Tracking Report – that give Americans access to NLG as they try to grasp all the information coming their way from scientists, government officials, and the media.
Each of these free dashboards allows anyone – from government leaders to journalists to citizens – to review up-to-date COVID-19 data, along with critical insights transformed into writing by Arria’s Natural Language Generation software. The software uses language analytics and computational linguistics to “think” like a writer, pulling the most important information to the top of the narrative, providing critical insights, and giving meaning to the tabulated reports and visualizations.
Just as an example, a resident of Pulaski County, KY, who checked in on April 23 would have learned that in their community the previous day “there were 2 new cases and no deaths reported. During the past 7 days, cases have increased by 7, which means the seven-day rolling average for cases is 1.”
No human wrote those sentences. They were penned automatically by the NLG software.
As Arria and others do their part to help Americans work their way through the sea of information, there is evidence that such assistance is both needed and wanted:
A Gallup poll shows lots of confusion about the state of the virus in the U.S., with Americans reaching no consensus on how they think things now stand; 41 percent say the situation is getting better, 39 percent say it is getting worse, and 20 percent say it is staying the same.
A 2017 study of the U.S. public’s understanding of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa found that most people are good at assessing risk when information is communicated accurately and effectively. That study also found that Americans want accurate and honest information, even if that information might worry people.
Knowing the facts is one way people can reduce their stress level during the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “When you share accurate information about COVID-19,” the CDC reports, “you can help make people feel less stressed.”
“The sheer flood of data and information we are seeing daily about the pandemic is nearly impossible to process without the help of technology,” Daniels says. “People want information that will help them understand what’s happening, particularly in the areas where they live. But if that information is too confusing and complicated, they are going to remain confused and scared – wondering what to do, how to help, or how to keep their families safe.”
About Sharon Daniels
Sharon Daniels is the chief executive officer of Arria (www.arria.com), which specializes in a form of artificial intelligence known as Natural Language Generation. Daniels’ entrepreneurial career in building and expanding technology startups began in 1984 and has now spanned more than three decades of technology evolution. Her previous experience includes serving as founding executive director of Diligent Corp., a technology company that grew to become a member of the S&P/NZX 50 composite index before being acquired by Insight Venture Partners for $624 million.