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Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge Technologies in a Post-Corona Society

April 9, 2020

This is a chapter preview from The Knowledge Graph Cookbook (click here to get a free copy).

As of this writing, we’ve entered the fourth week of quarantine and are probably only at the beginning of what has become the world's largest crisis since World War II. In a few months, the fog will lift and we will be able to see the consequences caused by the coronavirus more clearly. One thing is certain, the outbreak of the pandemic will change all of our lives forever: our patterns of social behavior, the way we work together—now and in the future—how we research and search for solutions as a global community, how we reorganize our supply chains, and how we will think about big data, surveillance and privacy.

Today, the internet has become a central piece of infrastructure, ensuring the continued existence of many of the systems around the world. We have seen how crucial it is to have data, information, news, and facts that can be trusted, accessed, processed, and networked at lightning speed. Many people, even entire industries, did not see it that way until very recently, but that has probably become very clear to everyone by now.

“As humans have spread across the world, so have infectious diseases. Even in this modern era, outbreaks are nearly constant, though not every outbreak reaches pandemic level as the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) has [1].” Virus outbreaks are inevitable, but next time we should be better prepared, and for that, we should build systems and societies that are based on trust.

The post-corona era will divide the world into two:

  1. Countries where the acceleration of digital transformation is based on recognizing the importance of evidence-based decision-making, the need for data quality, and the crucial importance of linking people and organizations across borders to benefit from explainable AI
  2. Countries that use Big Data and AI to build societies that are centrally governed by a few, using pandemics as a pretext to increasingly instrumentalize people as data points.

Explainable AI as a basis to build resilient societies (Image credits:

In which environment do smart networking technologies unfold—where the benefits of people and citizens are at the center? Where the diversity of ideas, knowledge, and research is stimulated in such a way that sustainable and countable results are achieved?

Where are resilient societies [2] emerging in the post-corona era—developing strategies that will be effective in the next and possibly even more catastrophic pandemic?

Let's take a closer look at some of the possible building blocks for a post-corona society, and at upcoming trends that we should pay attention to in order to shape our new future in a humane way.

Self-servicing Based on Explainable AI

The economy and public administration are now in a state of turmoil and acting under enormous pressure to cut costs. At the same time, a door has opened that is pushing the use of AI to provide cost-saving self services.

Digital self-service services will be ubiquitous. They will support many more interactions between citizens and public administration than what we see today: complement existing e-learning services (for teachers and students), serving both young and old in healthcare, helping people acquire financial literacy and even helping families plan their next trip in an economically and ecologically balanced way. In short, conversational AI will help people make the "right" decisions.

As described above, however, this is happening in different countries under diametrically different circumstances. While we can observe that in some parts of the world, explainable AI (XAI) [3] and Big Data are being developed for peoples’ benefit, this is happening under very different auspices in other regions. For example, knowledge graphs are also being used to generate complete digital twins of citizens that are ultimately used against the individual in order to prevent unwanted behaviors, to destroy diversity, and to make the future allegedly more “predictable.”

Gartner recommends that Government CIOs must “leverage the urgency created by the virus outbreak to accelerate the development of data-centric transformation initiatives,” and they go on to state that “the increased need for transparency and improved decision making is putting greater emphasis on data centricity, while exacerbating ethical issues [4].”

Fight Fake News and Hate Speech

To a large extent, the degree of the pandemic is due to the fact that even before the outbreak of the crisis, but primarily during it, false news and opinions were constantly spread via fake news peddlers like Facebook and other social networks, but also via the "established" media. As mentioned above, the foundation of a resilient society with robust organizations is built on trust, and every wrong message and hateful post slowly erodes this foundation little by little. It was during the pandemic that the vulnerability of digital systems in this respect became more apparent, with Facebook having to send home thousands of content moderators while at the same time relying on AI algorithms to ensure that false messages like medical hoaxes could not spread virally across the platform. Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the decision could result in “false positives,” including the removal of content that should not be taken down [5].

Considering that even big data technology giants have to employ thousands of people who have to manually classify their content, one can easily deduce how impossible it will be—at least in the near future—to rely on any AI without the human-in-the-loop (HITL) [6]. The approaches to combat fake news and hate speech will be a mixture of AI, HITL, and stricter policies and regulations. Let's stop trusting tech giants who have told us over and over again how resilient their AI algorithms are. The virus revealed their limitations within days.

HR at the Heart of Learning Organizations

Qualified employees and human resources will become increasingly important in a post-corona society and its organizations that want to base their values and business models not only on data, but above all on knowledge, in response to increasingly dynamic environments. Many organizations will have learned at least one thing from the Corona pandemic: self-motivated, self-determined, networkable and knowledgeable employees form the foundation of every company, one which can remain resilient and capable of action even during times of crisis. While some have closed their borders and put up their blinders, others have sought out collaborators and have intensified global networking, especially within the pharmaceutical industry. “While political leaders have locked their borders, scientists have been shattering theirs, creating a global collaboration unlike any in history [7].”

Paradoxically, in places where networking is becoming more important, the human being is again at the center, and on a level above this, the "learning organization" [8] now comes into play.

“It is not the strongest of the species who survive, nor the most intelligent; rather it is those most responsive to change.”—Charles Darwin

HR management in a learning organization can benefit from semantic AI and knowledge graphs in many ways: semi-automated and more accurate recruitment, more precise identification of skills gaps, semi-automatic orchestration of knowledge communities within an organization, working law intelligence based on deep text analytics, e-learning systems based on semantics [9], job seekers identify opportunities that match their skill sets, etc.

Screenshot from the PoolParty HR Recommender

Rebirth of Linked Open (Government) Data

"Linked Open Data" experienced its first heyday around 2010, when organizations around the world and government bodies in particular—at least in the long term and in terms of society—recognized and invested in the added value of open data. It has since become clearer that added value is created when data is based on interoperable standards and is therefore machine-readable across borders. For example, even in 2015, the European Commission still looked optimistically into the future and announced in their study on the impact of re-use of public data resources that ''the total market value of Open Data is estimated between €193B and €209B for 2016 with an estimated projection of €265B to €286B for 2020, including inflation corrections [11].”

Expectations were probably very high and since then, the Open Data movement in general has stagnated and what the 'Global Open Data Index' stated in its last report [12] in 2017 continues to be the main obstacle to overcome before we can make use of open data on a large scale:

  • Data findability is a major challenge and a prerequisite for open data to fulfill its potential. Currently, most data is very hard to find.
  • A lot of "data" is online, but the ways in which it is presented are limiting their openness. Governments publish data in many forms, not only as tabular datasets, but also visualizations, maps, graphs, and texts. While this is a good effort to make data relatable, it sometimes makes the data very hard or even impossible to reuse.

The scientific community is already doing better, which has paid off during the pandemic. By applying the FAIR principles to their data, such as the open research data set COVID-19 [13], which contains the text of more than 24,000 research papers, or the COVID-19 image data collection [14], which is supporting the joint development of a system for identifying COVID-19 in lung scans, a cohort of data scientists from around the world has been brought together to achieve a common goal.

Governments and public administrations would be well advised to finally learn from science and, after years of chaotic Open Data efforts, finally bring their data strategies to a level that takes the FAIR principles into account, and thus Semantic Web standards as well.

The Beginning of a New AI Era

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, AI had been heralded as a great promise of salvation, and its litmus test: the virus. So, could AI pass this test? Yes and no. COVID-19 has in many ways turned reality and the future upside down, and with it all the models that were trained before the outbreak [15].

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed some of the key shortfalls of the current state of AI. Machine learning always requires a large amount of historical data, and this data is not available at the beginning of a pandemic, or more generally, during times of change. By the time they are available, it is often too late. So Deep Learning is AI for the good weather, but what we need is an AI that can learn quicker and can produce answers to questions, not just predictions based on obsolete data.

This can only work when AI can utilize human knowledge and creativity and make abstractions. Thus, AI systems need support from machine readable knowledge models; additionally, collaboration is key! “Efforts to leverage AI tools in the time of COVID-19 will be most effective when they involve the input and collaboration of humans in several different roles [16].”

A Semantic AI architecture (From: The Knowledge Graph Cookbook)

This all requires a major reworking of our AI architectures as depicted above, which should be based on the Semantic AI design principle.

For everyone’s safety, the use of personal health data will experience an unprecedented proliferation and it is imperative that it is based on the HITL and FAIR principles, otherwise we will either live in societies that are underperforming in combating pandemic outbreaks or other crises, or that are over-performing in surveillance [17]. Only by applying the FAIR and HITL principles to AI can we bring this into balance. This must be placed in an appropriate legal framework and should become the cornerstones of a new AI era.


[1] Visualizing the History of Pandemics (Nicholas LePan, 2020),

[2] After corona: The Resilient Society? (Zukunftsinstitut, 2020),

[3] Explaining Explanations: An Overview of Interpretability of Machine Learning (Leilani H. Gilpin et al., 2019),

[4] Gartner, Inc: ‘How COVID-19 Will Impact Government Digital Transformation and Innovation’ (Andrea Di Maio, Ben Kaner, Michael Brown, 2020),

[5] Facebook sent home thousands of human moderators due to the coronavirus. Now the algorithms are in charge (The Washington Post, 2020),

[6] Gartner, Inc: Design Principles of Human-in-the-Loop Systems for Control, Performance and Transparency of AI (Anthony Mullen, Magnus Revang, Pieter den Hamer, 2019),

[7] Covid-19 Changed How the World Does Science, Together (The New York Times, 2020),

[8] Building a Learning Organization (Olivier Serrat, 2017),

[9] A Survey of Semantic Technology and Ontology for e-Learning (Yi Wang, Ying Wang, 2019),

[10] The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship (Mark D. Wilkinson et al in: Scientific Data, 2016),

[11] Creating Value through Open Data (European Commission, 2015),

[12] The State of Open Government Data in 2017 (Danny Lämmerhirt et al, 2017),

[13] COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (Allen Institute for AI),

[14] COVID-19 image data collection,

[15] What Happens to AI When the World Stops(COVID-19)? (Ian Rowan, 2020),

[16] AI can help with the COVID-19 crisis - but the right human input is key (Matissa Hollister, 2020),

[17] COVID-19 and Digital Rights (The Electronic Frontier Foundation),

Andreas Bluamuer

Andreas Bluamuer


Semantic Web Company