If I had a choice between solving global warming and eliminating the threat of global pandemics, I would choose the latter.
I am probably in the minority on this, but I think a pandemic might be the graver threat. A few years ago I even put together a cache of food and water in my basement. Then if a pandemic hit, my family could stay inside for a month or two until things were sorted out. I suppose it’s time to restock the basement: we’ve used most of the water to fill the family fish tank and we haven’t checked the food in a while, but it’s probably pretty stale.
What can we all do to fight global pandemics? The internet may be the single most powerful tool at hand. Pandemics tend to start in remote locations. Quickly extracting the vital medical information from those places would provide a head start on taming an epidemic. The formal networks like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not seem to work all that well.
Larry Brilliant, a visionary American epidemiologist and author, has a plan in mind for gathering just this sort of information. Brilliant won the coveted TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) prize last year, which allows the recipient to make a special wish that the TED community then helps to realize.
Brilliant has devised a method of scouring the Internet for clues that a pandemic might be starting.
Last year he became head of Google’s nonprofit arm. Could there be a better match?
As the world waits for Brilliant’s plan to be put into practice, I guess we will have to be satisfied with something far less lofty.
Whoissick.org is a Web site that allows the ailing to post their illnesses and lets others search by ZIP code to see what people in their area have caught. The amazing thing for me is that sick people actually bother to post.
When I get sick I might go onto Google to try to figure out what is wrong with me. I doubt, however, that I would want to bother to go tell Whoissick.org that I feel awful. Certainly, if I was about to die from the bird flu, it would not be at the top of my mind.