The Flu Tracking Thing: A Hollywood-Style Repeat?

November 19, 2019

Guess not.

Perhaps we should be asking more often, “Do we really need an app for that?” Engadget announces, “Weather Channel App Uses Watson to Tell You When Flu Season Is Coming.” The write-up specifies:

“The latest version of the Weather Channel app for Android and iOS now includes a Flu Insights feature that uses IBM’s Watson to warn you when influenza is likely to be on the warpath. The team-up wields machine learning to provide a 15-day flu forecast as well notifications that pop up at key moments, such as the start of flu season or confirmed outbreaks. Ideally, this will keep you from going to a house party full of soon-to-be-sick virus carriers. Whatever the conditions are like, you’ll get prevention advice as well as CDC flu reports.”

On the other hand, Google tried its flu map back in 2008, and what happened to that? It was not too useful. We all know that flu season is upon us. According to the CDC, it happens every year from October through March, peaking December through February. And anyone can navigate directly to that site for prevention advice. Granted, that Watson-powered Flu Insights feature gives more details, like when and where confirmed outbreaks have occurred and a zip-code centered “flu forecast” that predicts risk from low to high. However, as the Engadget piece concedes:

“It’s easy to see Flu Insights fueling some paranoia. Do you really want to be afraid of going outside simply because Watson predicted trouble?”

For us, the answer is no. I, for one, prefer to simply get my flu shot in the fall and be done with it. No AI-prompted angst required.

Cynthia Murrell, November 19, 2019

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