Computer Analysis Slow To Pick Up Swine Flu Search Trends

    April 30, 2009


images1John Connor would be relieved to learn that we don’t yet have to worry about oursuper-computers rising up against us–apparently, they’re still only as smart as the humans operating them.

Case in point, Wired reports that despite the thousands of computers at Google’s disposal–and over 10 years of data analysis–it wasn’t able to identify an increasing trend in searches that suggested the Swine Flu outbreak was beginning.

…Google Flu Trends team, which aggregates and analyzes search queries to estimate how many people are sick, wasn’t watching Mexican flu data until after the outbreak had already begun. That highlights the problem with tech-heavy disease-detection systems: Often, we don’t know what internet data to look at until after a problem starts.

The chart below shows the up tick in “flu” related searches happened over a number of days in April–which you would think would be long enough for a super-computer to recognize a trend, right?

Unfortunately, this reminds me of the 9/11 attack. I seem to recall that our intelligence agencies where able to piece together data after the fact, but didn’t actually see it coming.