Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Unexpected medical practitioner

Google has constant access to a vast corpus of data concerning the informational demands of the citizens of the planet, and the organization has become powerful in that it uses imagination to invent ways of exploiting such information. Consider, for example, the following unexpected banner:

[Click the banner to see what it's all about.]

What does Google have to do with flue trends? Well, Google is aware of the geographical zone from which such-and-such a request for information emanates. And, when a lot Internet users in Texas, say, are asking for information about influenza, that could well mean that symptoms of an impending outbreak are arising in that area. And field data has proven that this kind of correlation corresponds to reality. In other words, Google has discovered an ingenious technique for predicting flu outbreaks.

It has often been said that various birds and animals seem to be capable of detecting advanced signs of an impending natural catastrophe such as a tsunami. But no serious observers have ever dared to claim (as far as I know) that humans have this kind of mysterious talent. Personally, I'm not superstitious, and I like to imagine that I reason objectively. But, if I were living in San Francisco, say, and I learned that Google happened to be receiving an exceptionally large number of requests from local people for information about earthquakes, I reckon I would prefer to get to hell out of the place as quickly as possible.

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