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Student in anti-virus information platform

Brian Ndegwa is using his prowess in Information Technology to fight coronavirus by building an AI system that responds to questions
Brian Ndegwa is using his prowess in Information Technology to fight coronavirus by building an AI system that responds to questions related to the spread and mitigation of the disease. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Social media use in the wake of new a global order under the covid-19 pandemic has seen facts about the virus swamped up by myths and misconception that threaten the fight against the spread of the virus.

Concerned about the spread of misinformation, Brian Ndegwa has come up with an Artificial Intelligence system that is aiding in disseminating factual information regarding coronavirus.

The second year student at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology pursuing a BA in Information Technology created Rona – a bot that aims at curbing misinformation and other propagandas involving the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People were expressing anxiety and panic on twitter and it was mainly triggered by unverified information mostly fueled by people with unknown motives. I saw it necessary to come up with a system that will fight misinformation,” he said.

The AI bot allows users to ask questions as it generates relevant responses or a link to the relevant articles from websites approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Ministry of Health.

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“Rona seeks to help people avoid unnecessary panic and at the same time keeping them informed by providing the necessary precautions as communicated by WHO, CDC and MoH,” he added.

Ndegwa has been a key participant in multiple hackathons in and outside the learning institution mostly organised by the university’s innovation centre- DeHub under the facilitation of the project coordinator at the centre Kenneth Njihia.

Towards the conception of the innovation, Ndegwa said the majority of misinformation was being spread through chats which saw him incorporate a chat interface saying it would resonate well with most people due to ease in use and navigation.

“I incorporated a chat interface since chatting proved to be the preference for most people compared to use of websites. More so, it is fun to learn while chatting instead of having to scroll through headings and long articles,” he stated.

Ndegwa explains that Rona has the ability to fight any information intended to cause fear on then global pandemic thus it is able to understand when many users ask a question revolving a particular topic and understand it to manage to increase her knowledge base.

However, before Rona adds to knowledge base, Ndegwa says the administrator has to approve the content to prevent her from learning the wrong materials.

Ndegwa and the DeHUB Coordinator, Kenneth Njihia, have been keenly following the Ministry of Health's updates and ensuring RONA gives the right information to people.

For instance, on April 6 after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s speech, they noticed a spike in the number of users asking Rona about a lockdown and we had to re-listen to the president's speech and also confirm in the Ministry of Health's twitter handle before letting Rona train on how to answer similar questions.

It took Ndegwa six days to develop Rona and through the help of DeHuB he developed it to an extension of the online platform to provide comprehensive visualised analytics on county level to enable people to view the infection rates per county and also paint a picture on the issue of flattening the curve.

Rona is an online platform that can be accessed through http://rona.co.ke/ and has already been rolled out to the public as a free product.

For the one week that Rona has been in public, both Ndegwa and Njihia say they have had over 1,500 users have received over 7,000 messages relayed on the platform.

Most of the users said have come from Kenya which accounts for 95 per cent of the total user base and few from the US, UK, Netherlands, UAE and Uganda.

“We are dedicated to providing accurate and verified information as we look forward to partnering with the Ministry of Health to enable us to offer the service at our level best,” Njihia said adding that Rona is not monetised in any way as it aims at providing solutions to help the community.

An upgraded version of Rona which will be ready by the end of the week, Ndegwa says will be more intelligent and will be inspired by the government’s prompt to the youth to take it upon themselves to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The upgraded version will also help people locate places to get various supplies such as facemasks and food or where people in quarantine can be able to access donations with appropriate directions.

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