Posted on September 9, 2016 by staff

How Big Data is being used in fight against disease


A Liverpool academic wants to use Big Data in the fight against disease.

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’ve 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.”

Explaining his role at the University of Liverpool, he said: “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.

“I recently did some work involving a computer at Hartree called BlueGene. It was the 13th biggest computer in the world when it was commissioned in 2012.

“It has more processor cores than there are seconds in a day.

“If your four-core laptop took a day to do something, BlueGene does it in four seconds.

“Crucially, Hartree has both powerful computers and the people with the experience and expertise that make it possible to harness that power.

“I think that’s a fantastic environment in which to learn about the potential that Big Data offers.”