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Technology

Asian cities harness big data and AI for contact tracing

Tracking infectious diseases becomes centerpiece of smart city projects

Asian cities have turned to big data and AI to trace people with the risk of having been exposed to the coronavirus.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- China's Alibaba Group Holding offers an app that restricts individuals at a high risk of having been exposed to the coronavirus from entering certain buildings. 

The tech giant has also rolled out a system in several Chinese cities that identifies those not wearing a mask using AI.

Those services, listed in a Nomura Research Institute study, are examples of efforts by Asian cities to tap big data and artificial intelligence to track and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The hope is that those technologies, which allow for the analysis of individual behavior, could also help cities control future outbreaks and could become a central component of smart-city projects in the region.

In Singapore, the city-state's government led the development of a system that traces the movement of COVID-19 patients using facial recognition and public transportation records, so it can assess the risk of the infection spreading.

The Nomura Research Institute will use its findings to advise Japanese companies interested in participating in smart-city projects in emerging economies.

South and Southeast Asia are home to 350 smart-city projects across about 40 cities, according to a report published last fall by Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. A dozen were deemed particularly promising for their potential for growth and the challenges they face. Trading house Sojitz is involved in smart-city development in Indonesia's Kota Deltamas, as is Sumitomo Corp. in Hanoi.

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