An AI Epidemiologist Sent the First Warnings of the Wuhan Virus

Eric Niiler at Wired: “On January 9, the World Health Organization notified the public of a flu-like outbreak in China: a cluster of pneumonia cases had been reported in Wuhan, possibly from vendors’ exposure to live animals at the Huanan Seafood Market. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had gotten the word out a few days earlier, on January 6. But a Canadian health monitoring platform had beaten them both to the punch, sending word of the outbreak to its customers on December 31.

BlueDot uses an AI-driven algorithm that scours foreign-language news reports, animal and plant disease networks, and official proclamations to give its clients advance warning to avoid danger zones like Wuhan.

Speed matters during an outbreak, and tight-lipped Chinese officials do not have a good track record of sharing information about diseases, air pollution, or natural disasters. But public health officials at WHO and the CDC have to rely on these very same health officials for their own disease monitoring. So maybe an AI can get there faster. “We know that governments may not be relied upon to provide information in a timely fashion,” says Kamran Khan, BlueDot’s founder and CEO. “We can pick up news of possible outbreaks, little murmurs or forums or blogs of indications of some kind of unusual events going on.”…

The firm isn’t the first to look for an end-run around public health officials, but they are hoping to do better than Google Flu Trends, which was euthanized after underestimating the severity of the 2013 flu season by 140 percent. BlueDot successfully predicted the location of the Zika outbreak in South Florida in a publication in the British medical journal The Lancet….(More)”.