Can Google Save Us From Pestilence?

They're Doing Their Part Anyway

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Google is sometimes called "evil" by its critics. Often this has to do with advertising or privacy concerns, but critics might want to consider the notion that Google’s efforts might potentially prevent the spread of plague and dare I even say the apocalypse. A bit of a stretch? Maybe, but watch this video from Google.org, and you will get a sense of where I’m going with this.

The latest project related to saving the world, is Google’s Flu Trends. The tool not only shows you flu data graphically around the U.S. by state, but also information about flu vaccinations, and a search tool to locate your nearest flu shot location. There is also a section about the latest flu news.

 Google Software engineers Jeremy Ginsberg and Matt Mohebbi share some background on the project at the Official Google Blog:

Our team found that certain aggregated search queries tend to be very common during flu season each year. We compared these aggregated queries against data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and we found that there’s a very close relationship between the frequency of these search queries and the number of people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms each week. As a result, if we tally each day’s flu-related search queries, we can estimate how many people have a flu-like illness. Based on this discovery, we have launched Google Flu Trends, where you can find up-to-date influenza-related activity estimates for each of the 50 states in the U.S.

The CDC does a great job of surveying real doctors and patients to accurately track the flu, so why bother with estimates from aggregated search queries? It turns out that traditional flu surveillance systems take 1-2 weeks to collect and release surveillance data, but Google search queries can be automatically counted very quickly. By making our flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza.

Google’s Predict and Prevent initiative (the Google.org team behind the disease outbreak information (as featured in the above video) focuses on the following methods of finding threats of disease early:

- Digital detection: supporting technology and efforts to detect early online ‘signals’ of emerging threats

- Genetic detection: accelerating the discovery of new pathogens through molecular methods

– Supporting the development of point of care diagnostics for use in developing countries

Google.org is a branch of Google that probably doesn’t get talked about enough. We’re often so focused on how Google can impact our businesses and make our lives easier (or harder), that we don’t think about the really important work that they’re doing.

Can Google Save Us From Pestilence?
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  • http://www.stayfreshup.com/blog/2008/10/30/getting-website-maintenance-done-with-a-plan/ Tertius

    Wonder if this will filter worldwide or if that’s in the pipeline at all.  I’d like to see something like this with AIDS in Africa.

    • Chris Crum

      I don’t know about the flu tracker, but there’s definitely some worldwide projects going on, based on the video.

  • http://uti-help.com/ Amy Evans

    Google can save us from anything!

  • http://potpolitics.com Google Lover

     What company is known for making all the right moves and takes care of their employees and has this affect on the world?

    As a blogger who tries to keep my few readers updated on the social networking happenings Google makes it easy and I post often of their continued success in handing me the tools necessary.Google new profiles is just another example.If their data saves lives that’s awesome :)

    Thanks Google for that adsense check ;)

    Also I was talking with a friend about how awesome this site is and he wrote me back and said he did some seo scan on my blog and that your site was the main reason my blog got a PR4 ;) Thanks

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