Northeastern University

The psychic art of supercomputing

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Northeastern’s own network scientist Alessandro Vespignani weighs in on the ever-enticing question of predicting the future.

Vespignani joins a blogger, a businessman, a tarot card reader, a psychologist and a climate scientist on today’s episode of Big Picture Science, the NPR-syndicated science and technology podcast.

Before the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, Vespignani predicted the spread of the virus with surprising accuracy. He didn’t use tarot cards though, instead he used international flight patterns and supercomputers to chart the course of human mobility patterns and, subsequently, the course of the virus itself.

In the future, this kind of data could be used to prevent widespread pandemics. Similarly, the Living Earth Simulator, a project on which Vespignani is the lead data planner, will use mobile phone and twitter data, for example, to predict the spread of ideas and knowledge, in addition to disease.

Listen to the whole podcast, which is pretty interesting, or listen only to Vespignani’s section here.


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