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A New Medical A.I Can Listen To You Cough… And Then Tell If You’ve Coronavirus

Wed Nov 11 2020

The AI identified 98.5% of coughs correctly… Even when the test subjects were asymptomatic

Researchers from M.I.T have built a medical A.I capable of telling the difference between a regular, run of the mill cough and the cough of someone with coronavirus… even if the infected person forces the cough and they’re asymptomatic!

The Artificial Intelligence was accurate in identifying COVID-19 symptoms 98.5% of the time.


The developers now hope to build the AI into an app as well as smart speakers and mobile phones to be used as a real time screening tool. This could potentially cut down on the number of people needing screening tests for the coronavirus.


Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the MIT researchers had been training the AI to discover other diseases such as Alzheimer’s or pneumonia based on the sound of people’s coughs.

The AI works on the basis that the way we talk and cough reflects the current strength of our vocal chords, as well as the organs surrounding them.

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We think this shows that the way you produce sound changes when you have COVID, even if you're asymptomatic. Pandemics could be a thing of the past if pre-screening tools are always on in the background and constantly improved. Things we easily derive from fluent speech, AI can pick up simply from coughs, including things like the person's gender, mother tongue, or even emotional state. There's in fact sentiment embedded in how you cough.

Brian Subirana - Research Scientist, MIT 

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At the start of the pandemic the team pivoted to apply their earlier research to COVID-19 patients.

Collecting over 70,000 audio samples of people coughing, both health and infected, they had the AI listen and analyse them.

Form there it was able to build a picture of what a ‘healthy’ cough sounded like compared to one with the coronavirus, identifying specific signals and patterns in vocal chord strength, lung performance, emotion and muscular degradation to identify COVID-19 sufferers.


Subriana and the rest of the researchers involved in the project are now looking to build the AI into a free app whilst also seeking permission from the US Food & Drug Administration to use it as a coronavirus pre-screening tool.

That means that a person could use the app to determine the need for a full test or not, which could dramatically cut down on wait times.

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This kind of a pre-screening tool "could diminish the spread of the pandemic if everyone uses it before going to a classroom, a factory, or a restaurant.

Brian Subirana - Research Scientist, MIT 

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However, the AI can't determine whether your cough is due to a different illness in particular, like the flu or a cold as it's only calibrated to detect COVID-19. It also wouldn’t be able to tell if the fever or sore throat you have is due to COVID-19.

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Whilst encouraging, whether or not this performs well enough in a real-world setting to recommend its use as a screening tool would need further study.

Anthony Lubinsky - Director of Respiratory Care, New York University Langone Tisch Hospital

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Wed Nov 11 2020

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