Big data has many uses. Banks use it to make money and improve customer care, automobile makers are hoping it will help them to develop better production processes, and even pizza companies are using it to make sure they never run out of ingredients.
These are all well and good, but what about using big data for something that’s good for you?
There are few better causes than trying to save lives, so it’s good to know that scientists around the world are now applying big data to try and do just that – by predicting the spread of diseases and using information to prevent them.
Preventing Flu Pandemics
One of the biggest health concerns these days seems to be the threat of a global flu pandemic, a threat that’s been heightened by sporadic, yet often deadly outbreaks of bird flu and pig flu. The World Health Organization says that a global influenza pandemic is long overdue, and has the potential to claim millions of lives around the world.
Which is why Lauren Ancel Meyers at the University of Texas has developed what’s called the Texas Pandemic Toolkit, in order to help medical professionals prepare for any future outbreaks of the disease.
The Texas Pandemic Toolkit applies historical data and mathematical models to predict how such an outbreak will be transmitted and how it’s likely to spread, based on a huge variety of variables.
As Lauren explains:
“While the forecasts will not be exact, they give a rough idea of how many people will be hospitalized around the state and when an epidemic may peak. Such information can lead to more timely and effective control measures.”
Spotting Skin Cancer
It’s not just the flu that can be predicted and (hopefully) prevented. Thanks to those geniuses at the University of Michigan, it’s now possible to spot skin cancer during its earliest stages, and you can do using your smartphone.
A new skin cancer app, UM SkinCheck, allows users to carry out their own skin examinations on a regular basis to spot the early signs of the disease. It’s dead simple to use as well. Essentially, users take a series of photographs of themselves in the buff, according to the app’s instructions (don’t worry, it’s perfectly clean!). These images are then stored as a baseline, from which users can make comparisons in the future.
Those who are concerned about melanoma can then take time out once a week or once a month (presumably this will depend on their level of insecurity, no doubt) to take another set of photos, compare these to the originals, and spot any signs of the disease developing. The app includes dozens of example photos of skin cancer (for comparisons), plus a calculator that lets people assess their chances of developing the disease. Good stuff.
One final way in which big data can help us to lead healthier lives is through the spread of knowledge. We all love infographics, but few pose such a stark warning as this one does. Basically, it spells out just how DUMB most guys are when it comes to looking after their own health, and just how much more likely they are to suffer from health conditions than their female counterparts – mostly because, guys just don’t give two hoots (until it’s too late!).
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.