SAN DIEGO—Not everything you try will work, but you need to try lots of ideas. That was advice here from Nathan Myhrvold, founder of Intellectual Ventures and former chief technology officer at Microsoft, on the opening evening of the TEDMED conference, held from October 27 through 29. Myhrvold and the other speakers offered plenty of ways to solve challenging problems.
For instance, he noted the tremendous number of infections in hospitals: 1.7 million cases per year. A device that beams ultraviolet light on surfaces can kill bacteria. In another challenge, Myhrvold said that 99.9 percent of X-ray energy is wasted, but backscattering, or reflecting, it back can make more use of that energy—and capture better images in the process.
From a “virus’s perspective,” there’s now a single human population, said Wolfe, whose global network effort is seeking to add novel types of data in the hunt for outbreaks. [See his 2009 article “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic.” and the story “PlagueBusters”.] “Big data has an incredible capacity for public health,” he added. Among the possible sources are Google searches for words such as “fever,” drug-purchase patterns, medical records—even Twitter activity.