Current Centers of Disease Control estimates suggest that the disease could infect more than 1.4 million people by January. To limit Ebola’s spread, researchers need better on-the-ground intelligence about where it’s moving. But the virus’s deadly mortality rate, 70 percent for this strain, makes up-close observation as difficult as gathering data on a deadly human adversary. It’s no small challenge for the World Health Organization or the 3,000 troops that President Barack Obama sent to Africa to help them.
Some of the intelligence tools that militaries use to gather intelligence could play a growing role in preventing the worst-case scenario.
Artificial Intelligence and Data Mining
The international health community is relying more and more on the HealthMap database to track new Ebola cases. As Larry Greenemeier lays out in this piece for Scientific American, HealthMap uses text analysis algorithms to scan the Internet for news, social media posts and other pieces of recent content that speak to disease upticks or health events of consequence.
“HealthMap automates data acquisition, filtering and characterization of information so that it flows from the source through to the Web page without any human intervention,” Greenemeier explains.
The system functions a great deal like several Internet reading robots that the military has funded through programs like Open-Source Indicators, a 2011 program from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, IARPA, to scan published news reports, tweets, and other web data for early signs of war, conflict, discord or simply events of geopolitical significance.