The Israeli Ministry of Defense has launched a project to analyze people’s voices and breathing patterns using artificial intelligence (AI) in order to determine if they have COVID-19. The software allegedly listens for detectable “signs of distress,” ostensibly from the respiratory effects of the virus. A May 27 report in the Jerusalem Post stated that the research was already being conducted at several hospitals in Israel, where confirmed COVID-19 patients were asked to provide voice samples to be compared to those of a control group from the general population.
Results from the research were expected sometime in June. However, the study has now been expanded beyond Israel’s borders. Over one million voice recordings are currently being collected in the United States through a mobile app developed by Massachusetts-based Vocalis Health, under the auspices of the Israeli government.
While growth in the biomarker sector is strong, the applications of voice biomarker technology lean heavily towards surveillance and language parsing, as opposed to diagnostic applications, which are virtually non-existent at the moment. Vocal biometric data has already been making its way into American law enforcement for at least two years.
Thousands of police departments across the United States, for instance, use a voice-recognition technology called “Dragon Law Enforcement” developed by Nuance Communications. This same company has established a strong presence in the healthcare sector as well. In 2018, Nuance partnered with the healthcare software giant, Epic Systems, which is said to hold two-thirds of medical records in the U.S., and its Dragon Medical speech recognition software is used by half a million clinicians throughout the country.
Epic and Nuance Communications are only a few of several companies lurching into the freshly-minted Coronavirus tech marketplace along with at least 150 Israeli startups that began working on ideas relating to COVID-19 back in 2019 – many under the guise of healthcare. But, their value as a medical diagnostic tool looks certain to be outweighed by its broader applications in burgeoning pre-crime law enforcement technologies that are now proliferating across the United States and the world.