Posted on July 8, 2016 by staff

Academic joins fight against Zika virus


A Liverpool academic has said he hopes to use Big Data in the fight against the Zika virus.

The mosquito-borne virus has been declared a global public health emergency by the World Health Organization and is suspected of leading to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains.

Now Simon Maskell, Professor of Autonomous Systems at the  University of Liverpool, is hoping technology can be used to ensure resources are deployed where they’re most needed.

“The challenge is to turn data into information pertinent to decision-making,” he said. “It’s vital to me that someone does something on the back of the analysis of the data and that this decision is a step to achieving some objective.

“I’m currently talking with UNICEF about how to prioritise their activities in South America in response to Zika. I’ve also recently worked for MoD to help them figure out how to combine data from GP surgeries, hospital admissions and Twitter to provide early warnings of a flu epidemic.

”Prof Maskell was talking at a Big Data and Internet of Things conference organised by law firm Weightmans in conjunction with BusinessCloud and sponsored by the University of Liverpool.

He explained his role to the audience at the Martin Luther King Building, in Liverpool: “I aim to invent new algorithms that will enable computers to help both people and robots make the right decisions.

“I would describe myself as somewhere between a computer scientist, a statistician and an engineer. The computer scientist in me wants to use computers , the engineer wants to solve problems and the statistician wants to do it so it works.

“I think the key (to Big Data) is bringing people together who have the skills. You need people who understand the problem. There’s no sense in chucking algorithms that somebody tells  you is really good at some data set and expect it to produce magic. You need that combination of skills but it’s really about skills and not about hardware.

”He said the university has partnered with the UK centre for supercomputing at STFC’s Hartree Centre to “open the eyes” of students to the potential of Big Data.