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May 9, 2020

NASA, partners launch virtual hackathon to develop COVID-19 solutions

Posted by in categories: astronomy, computing, cosmology, engineering, events, hacking, health, information science, innovation, open source, satellites, science, software, space

The U.S. space agency National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are inviting coders, entrepreneurs, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, artists, and technologists to participate in a virtual hackathon May 30–31 dedicated to putting open data to work in developing solutions to issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the global Space Apps COVID-19 Challenge, participants from around the world will create virtual teams that – during a 48-hour period – will use Earth observation data to propose solutions to COVID-19-related challenges ranging from studying the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and its spread to the impact the disease is having on the Earth system. Registration for this challenge opens in mid-May.

“There’s a tremendous need for our collective ingenuity right now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “I can’t imagine a more worthy focus than COVID-19 on which to direct the energy and enthusiasm from around the world with the Space Apps Challenge that always generates such amazing solutions.”

The unique capabilities of NASA and its partner space agencies in the areas of science and technology enable them to lend a hand during this global crisis. Since the start of the global outbreak, Earth science specialists from each agency have been exploring ways to use unique Earth observation data to aid understanding of the interplay of the Earth system – on global to local scales – with aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak, including, potentially, our ability to combat it. The hackathon will also examine the human and economic response to the virus.

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Mar 17, 2020

When a Virus Goes Viral — Life with COVID-19

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, existential risks

Imagine the following scenario. You are a doctor working in a hospital in a very large and relatively polluted city, normally subject to a high level of seasonal respiratory ailments. Moreover, your healthcare system is stretched because of budget cuts and the devolution policies of central government. As a medical doctor you also know that flu viruses routinely mutate and may even be transferred from animals to humans. Exactly how all this happens varies from year to year – as does the exact mortality rate, though the pattern of infection and mortality is relatively well understood. In all these cases, the vast majority of people remain uninfected, asymptomatic or subject to mild symptoms that pass within a week. However, if the number of those requiring intensive hospital-based treatment rises above a certain percentage, the healthcare system can be quickly challenged. At that point, the doctor may panic, and armed with social media, he can now spread his concern around the world. But is the sheer appearance of a new virus strain the overriding cause?

The only part of this story that is really new is the availability of social media to spread news about any outbreak of such flu-like diseases. But one should not underestimate a general background awareness of overstretched public healthcare systems around the world, due partly to an ageing population but mainly due to the neoliberal policy horizon. Actions like the initial Chinese response to suppress the ‘whistleblower’ Li Wenliang have happened at the start of previous outbreaks – but now whistleblowers can communicate directly with the world. It is easy to forget that various new strains of flu are routinely reported in the media each year, with greater or lesser morbidity than earlier ones. Governments around the world normally monitor the situation in their own way, which means that the real figures have probably always been much higher than officially stated – both who catches the flu and who dies from it. Much depends on the motivation of the national health authorities to test specifically for the flu’s presence. After all, flu typically operates as a ‘nudge’ to worsen existing health conditions, and those conditions may be the primary medical focus.

We clearly don’t know everything we need to know about COVID-19. But the same applied to all the previous flu epidemics, which humanity has so far managed to survive. What is different now is the level of scrutiny and accountability of the response, mostly due to the recent information technology revolution, especially social media. This very basic socio-technical point has made it easier for the World Health Organization to designate COVID-19 a pandemic. The WHO’s insistence on mass testing (even if it doesn’t catch those who have recovered) also fits the same logic. What is striking so far about the global response are the efforts that societies have taken to reorganize themselves in order to protect those who are perceived as most vulnerable. It is quite unprecedented, especially in a world that is so otherwise imbued with capitalist values.

In the end, COVID-19 is the first virus to go properly ‘viral’, starting with Li Wenliang. That start has anchored the subsequent response. In particular, it has triggered a chain reaction that has exposed the different cultures of risk management around the world, as well as the varying conditions of national health care systems. Think of it as Nature’s brute audit on humanity’s sustainability. Indeed, that may be the virus’ main direct legacy – which means that public health care is bound to improve all round in the long run. However, if the lockdown continues long enough, the virus may end up questioning the modus operandi of contemporary capitalism in a way that long-standing complaints about inequality have failed to do. I expect that the vast majority of the population will manage to cope reasonably well during our period of ‘species captivity’, while consuming significantly less of the planet’s resources – that is, assuming that the increasing energy demands of online activities don’t first cause a short-circuit!

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Feb 8, 2020

Bio-Security — Dr. Tara O’Toole MD, EVP and Senior Fellow at In-Q-Tel, director of B.Next, former Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — ideaXme — Ira Pastor

Posted by in categories: aging, biological, biotech/medical, defense, DNA, genetics, government, health, life extension, science

Oct 9, 2019

Ambassador Juan José Gómez Camacho — Mexico’s Ambassador to Canada — Migrant Health, Pandemics, and Aging — IdeaXme — Ira Pastor

Posted by in categories: aging, geopolitics, governance, government, health, law, policy, science, strategy, sustainability

May 3, 2009

Swine Flu Update: are we entering an Age of Pandemics?

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, existential risks, futurism, geopolitics, nanotechnology, space, sustainability

May 2: Many U.S. emergency rooms and hospitals crammed with people… ”Walking well” flood hospitals… Clinics double their traffic in major cities … ER rooms turn away EMT cases. — CNN

Update May 4: Confirmed cases of H1N1 virus now at 985 in 20 countries (Mexico: 590, 25 deaths) — WHO. In U.S.: 245 confirmed U.S. cases in 35 states. — CDC.

“We might be entering an Age of Pandemics… a broad array of dangerous emerging 21st-century diseases, man-made or natural, brand-new or old, newly resistant to our current vaccines and antiviral drugs…. Martin Rees bet $1,000 that bioterror or bioerror would unleash a catastrophic event claiming one million lives in the next two decades…. Why? Less forest, more contact with animals… more meat eating (Africans last year consumed nearly 700 million wild animals… numbers of chickens raised for food in China have increased 1,000-fold over the past few decades)… farmers cut down jungle, creating deforested areas that once served as barriers to the zoonotic viruses…” — Larry Brilliant, Wall Street Journal