Could Network Data Be a Lifesaver During a Pandemic?
One hundred years ago, a flu pandemic swept across the world, claiming more than 50 million lives between 1918 and 1920. Now we again face the reality of a viral pandemic, and we find ourselves struggling to track the rapid transmission and replication in hopes of getting ahead of the curve. Are we destined to continually repeat this cycle? Or is there a way to completely eradicate viral pandemics before the next century?
One thing we do know is that in the twenty-first century we have something that previous generations did not – advanced technology. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), location intelligence and data analytics can be harnessed to slow and stop the spread of viral infections, provided we can combine them with the promise of next-generation 5G networks.
Together, from a distance
We’ve come a long way from the wired switchboard telephones of one hundred years ago. Mobile technology is ubiquitous; in fact, more than 80% of the population in China, Europe, Russia and North America subscribes to mobile service, according to the GSMA. And it is this hyper-connectivity that is going to be crucial in turning the tide.
Although the transmission of a virus itself is almost impossible to accurately track, we do have the means to track individuals that have tested positive, or those who may have come into contact with it. More than 11 countries worldwide are already using their mobile networks to track, surveil and stem the spread of the current pandemic. At the very heart of this tactic is location intelligence technology.
Having individual sets of data is useful, but when massive volumes of data are collected and collated at scale, the possibilities become almost limitless. Thanks to exponential advances in AI, ML and data mining algorithms, what was a simple means of tracking mobile network subscribers’ locations in order to provide service suddenly becomes a powerful analytics engine to identify patterns of movement and subscriber behaviors. As high-speed 5G networks become more widespread, this new level of insight will prove invaluable when it comes to making predictions about population movement, helping healthcare workers and governments halt the spread of infectious viral diseases.
The promise of tomorrow
Of course, there are a number of questions about how to best leverage these innovations, as well as discussions to be had about how to anonymize and aggregate this data so it can be used to inform better decision making while protecting subscribers’ privacy. We have tried to address the most salient points in these discussions in a recent paper entitled Today’s Technologies Can Save Lives.
But what’s clear is that in order to make pandemics a thing of the past, we must fully realize the potential of the technologies we have at our disposal, while also respecting one another. Ultimately, it’s our human ingenuity and technological capability that will win the war against pandemics.
As we all practice ‘social distancing’ for the foreseeable future, it’s true that we are now more dependent than ever before on technology to keep us connected. But if we can capitalize on the unbridled potential of today’s advanced technologies, the type of crisis we’re now facing could be confined to the history books for good.