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How computer science can help keep you healthy

Well, it has to be good for something

People sometimes aren’t aware just how much computers influence their lives. They’ve used the internet and mobile phones, seen computer-generated imagery in cinemas, and perhaps realised how much date is being sensed around them. But there are enormous applications for computers in science, arts, and medicine.

Earlier today I did an introductory lecture on using computers to study disease epidemics:

Com­pu­ta­tional epi­demi­ology is the use of math­em­at­ical and com­pu­ta­tional tech­niques to model how dis­eases spread. This is import­ant for answer­ing a num­ber of ques­tions. How infec­tious are dif­fer­ent dis­eases? Why are dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions affected dif­fer­ently? How do dif­fer­ent treat­ment regimes work? Is quar­ant­ine effect­ive? We can address these sorts of ques­tions using a range of dif­fer­ent tech­niques, ran­ging from dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions (cal­cu­lus) for simple cases through to com­plex net­works and high-performance sim­u­la­tion for com­plex case — and pos­sibly even mod­el­ling real dis­eases in real-world geo­graph­ies in real time.

This lec­ture is an inter­act­ive intro­duc­tion to these ideas. We’ll explore how dis­eases spread; con­duct an exper­i­ment where we infect each other (kind of); and then see how dif­fer­ent aspects of com­puter sci­ence help us to explore dis­eases and their treatment.

The slides and other material are available here. I’ve included the slides, and an animation of a simulated epidemic running through a population of people. I’ve also included an IPython notebook describing some of the mathematics needed and containing all the code I used to generate the graphs and animation from the talk, which might be handy for anyone wanting to explore this area more thoroughly.

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