Mobile Data May Help Fight Disease

September 14, 2016

Data from smartphones and other mobile devices may give us a new tool in the fight against communicable diseases.  Pen State News reports, “Walking and Talking Behaviors May Help Predict Epidemics and Trends.” A recent study, completed by an impressive roster of academics at several institutions, reveals a strong connection between our movements and our communications. So strong, in fact, that a dataset on one can pretty accurately predict the other. The article cites one participant, researcher Dashun Wang of Penn State:

[Wang] added that because movement and communication are connected, researchers may only need one type of data to make predictions about the other phenomenon. For instance, communication data could reveal information about how people move. …

The equation could better forecast, among other things, how a virus might spread, according to the researchers, who report their findings today (June 6) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the study, they tested the equation on a simulated epidemic and found that either location or communication datasets could be used to reliably predict the movement of the disease.

Perhaps not as dramatic but still useful, the same process could be used to predict the spread of trends and ideas. The research was performed on three databases full of messages from users in Portugal and another (mysteriously unidentified) country and on four years of Rwandan mobile-phone data. These data sets document who contacted whom, when, and where.

Containing epidemics is a vital cause, and the potential to boost its success is worth celebrating. However, let us take note of who is funding this study: The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the James S. McDonnell Foundation’s program, Studying Complex Systems. Note the first three organizations in the list; it will be interesting to learn what other capabilities derive from this research (once they are unclassified, of course).

Cynthia Murrell, September 14, 2016
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One Response to “Mobile Data May Help Fight Disease”

  1. edgedale finance review on September 14th, 2016 4:14 am

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    Mobile Data May Help Fight Disease : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search

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