Artificial Intelligence Playing a Powerful Role in Understanding and Fighting COVID-19

Artificial Intelligence Playing a Powerful Role in Understanding and Fighting COVID-19

April 1, 20202 min read

Artificial intelligence is emerging as a powerful new ally in tracking COVID-19, modeling the virus at the molecular level, and analyzing the myriad research results being published daily. 


James Hendler, the Tetherless World Professor of Computer, Web, and Cognitive Sciences at Rensselaer, and director of the Rensselaer Institute of Data Exploration and Applications, is leading campus efforts to marshal AI resources for the purpose of battling the virus.

“The bottom line is that, at heart, dealing with COVID-19 is a ‘big data’ problem, and AI is a crucial tool in the big data toolkit,” Hendler said.

For example, IDEA and the Rensselaer Libraries have collaborated to maintain lists of COVID-19-related data sources and scholarly research publications. AI is being used to translate literally thousands of scientific insights from text-based research products into forms that can more easily be analyzed.

Hendler and other Rensselaer AI experts are also involved in studying the spread of the virus under different policy measures at the local, then state and national, and ultimately global scale.


Additionally, Rensselaer is part of the national COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which is offering researchers access to supercomputers for COVID-19 research. In addition to AiMOS, the most powerful supercomputer housed at a private university, Rensselaer is offering access to the expertise of world-class faculty, including in artificial intelligence. Hendler said AiMOS is one of the few facilities that can truly offer a platform optimized for artificial intelligence computing.


“AI has helped us achieve an excellent understanding of the coronavirus and its interactions at the molecular level. That’s going to make it possible not only to model the virus, but also how it will interact with potential drug targets and vaccines,” said Hendler. “A platform like AiMOS is invaluable for molecular modeling in drug discovery, helping scientists cope with a huge and rapidly changing literature, and exploring means to model, and then mitigate, the spread of the disease. These are the kinds of things that modern AI can do.”

Hendler has authored over 400 books, technical papers and articles in the areas of Semantic Web, artificial intelligence, agent-based computing and high performance processing. One of the originators of the “Semantic Web,” Hendler is the former Chief Scientist of the Information Systems Office at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and was awarded a US Air Force Exceptional Civilian Service Medal. Among other organizations, he is a member of the National Academies Board on Research Data and Information, a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, and he serves as chair of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) U.S. technology policy committee.

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  • James Hendler
    James Hendler Director, Future of Computing Institute

    Leading researcher in the Semantic Web and artificial intelligence

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