On top of concerns about Olympic pandemonium and government corruption, Brazil has been suffering from the Zika virus outbreak (it’s the country most afflicted by the epidemic.) Today IBM announced a slew of tech donations to address the problem. The company will train researchers at Brazil’s Fiocruz research foundation to use its open-source Spatiotemporal Epidemiological Modeler, which predicts how outbreaks may unfold based on data like weather, terrain, geography, and locations of airports and roadways. (It’s used in other countries, such as in China for tracking flu outbreaks.)
IBM will help also help Fiocruz by applying its sentiment analytics tech to parse Twitter streams for clues. And IBM is donating use of data from The Weather Company, which it acquired in January, to help UNICEF predict outbreaks. (Wet conditions mean more breeding opportunities for Zika-carrying mosquitos.) “Instead of writing checks…you look at all the variables that are important in terms of addressing a problem like Zika,” says the company’s VP of corporate citizenship & corporate affairs, Stan Litow.
He made a strong pitch for IBM’s OpenZika project—one of several medical research projects running on its World Community Grid. The distributed computing network runs in the background on PCs and Android devices to crunch scientific data for tasks like investigating chemicals that might serve as disease treatments. World Community Grid, has over 750,000 participants, says Litow, including 50,000 who have signed up for OpenZika since it was launched two months ago.
“I guess I’m hung up on getting more people on World Community Grid because the more power, the more calculations, the closer we’ll be to a solution,” he says. What about IBM’s most famous computing resource, the Watson AI platform? I ask Litow if it’s part of the anti-Zika campaign. “Not right now, but stay tuned,” he says. (by Sean Captain)