Meet the Bots That Knew Ebola Was Coming

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Online technology has improved the ability to detect and track outbreaks

A computer program run by epidemiologists in Boston had already alerted key agencies of the U.S. government about West Africa’s Ebola outbreak four days before the World Health Organization first announced it, one of the doctors told TIME Tuesday.

The computer’s advantage was its access to non-official online channels, in this case aMarch 19 news report in the Kenyan publication, theStandard News, which quoted a Guinean health official describing 23 recent deaths due to hemorrhagic fever in a region where bushmeat is regularly consumed. “These are new views on what is happening,” John Brownstein, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and the founder of, a group that scours social media and online news sources for early signs of disease outbreaks, told TIME.

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