A 22-Year Archive Of The New York Times Could Help Predict The Next Big Disease

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A software system built to analyse 22 years of The New York Times, as well as draw on information from various websites, is helping researchers predict where and when the next disease outbreak will occur.Tom Simonite of the MIT Technology Review wrote about how Microsoft and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology teamed up to create a software that not only predicts disease, but possibly instances of mass violence and social upheaval.

From the MIT Technology Review report:

The system provides striking results when tested on historical data. For example, reports of droughts in Angola in 2006 triggered a warning about possible cholera outbreaks in the country, because previous events had taught the system that cholera outbreaks were more likely in years following droughts. A second warning about cholera in Angola was triggered by news reports of large storms in Africa in early 2007; less than a week later, reports appeared that cholera had become established. In similar tests involving forecasts of disease, violence, and a significant numbers of deaths, the system’s warnings were correct between 70 to 90 per cent of the time.

The researchers told MIT Tech Review that with a rate of prediction that high, the project deserved further investigation and funding. With a little more research, countries and governments could employ the technology to mitigate potential disasters, or avert outbreaks like the horrific spread of cholera in Haiti following U.N. disaster relief.

Military planners could also use the software to collate and predict the possible spread and rise of Islamic extremism plaguing Africa right now — a problem of growing concern for America’s newly established Africa Command.

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