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时间:2016-03-28 14:59

Ebola and big data

Waiting on hold

埃博拉与大数据??正在流失的机会

Mobile-phone records would help combat the Ebola epidemic. But getting to look at them has proved hard

移动电话记录有助于抗击埃博拉疫情,但如何取得这些记录却是困难重重。

IN THE battle against Ebola, mobile phones could be invaluable?not just in themselves, as devices that can be used to send people public-health information or let them call helplines, but also because of the data they generate. Phone companies use call-data records, or CDRs, to manage their networks and bill their customers. These records include a caller’s identity, the time of the call, the phone tower that handled it and the number called. Other data which the firms collect can identify where a phone is even if it is not being used, because phones constantly send out signals so that their location is known, to enable them to receive calls.

在抗击埃博拉病毒的过程中,手机所能体现的价值是不可估量的,不仅仅因为手机本身作为通信工具可以用来向公众发布健康信息或用来求救,手机所产生的数据也很有价值。移动运营商利用用户呼叫数据记录(CDR)来优化网络和进行计费。这些记录包括呼叫者的身份信息,呼叫时间,承载这次呼叫的基站以及被呼叫的号码。即便手机没有通话,运营商收集的其它信息也可以定位出手机的位置,因为手机会不断发出信号以确定其所在的位置,以便随时接收电话。

CDRs can therefore tell epidemiologists where people have been, when?and perhaps also where they are headed, based on their past movements. Analysing the records has proved helpful in tracking the spread of diseases on previous occasions.

传染病学家利用这些呼叫记录就能知道人们何时在什么地方,甚至能基于他们过去的行踪推测出他们要去哪里。通过对以前类似情况的分析证明,这些数据可以用来跟踪疾病的传播路径。

For instance, a study conducted by the Karolinska Institute, in Stockholm, in the wake of the earthquake and cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010, used CDRs from almost 2m subscribers, gathered over the course of 200 days, to provide a more accurate measure of where people fled than official estimates could manage. Another piece of research, published in Science in 2012 by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard and elsewhere analysed a year’s worth of CDRs from 15m Kenyans. This suggested that many cases of malaria in Nairobi did not actually start in that city but were carried there from elsewhere. The telephone data were, moreover, able to identify the places that had the highest probability of spreading the disease?useful information for Kenya’s hard-pressed health service. And, in a third example of the value of CDRs in analysing epidemics, Vanessa Frías-Martínez and others at Telefonica Research in Madrid showed that, during the Mexican swine-flu epidemic in 2009, medical alerts did not achieve their aim of reducing mobility whereas shutdowns of shops, offices and so on imposed by the government did?and this, in turn, did reduce the number of infections below what might otherwise have been expected.

例如瑞典斯德哥尔摩的卡罗林斯卡医学院进行了一项研究,在2010年海地地震和霍乱爆发过程中,通过分析200万人在200天之内的呼叫记录,所得出的人们逃难的方向和位置要比官方估计的准确。另外还有一项卡内基梅隆大学、哈佛大学和其它机构的研究人员做的研究,成果发表在2012年的《科学》杂志上。这些研究人员分析了肯尼亚1500万人1年内的所有通话记录数据。结果显示,大量内罗毕所爆发的疟疾疫情并不是源自于市区,而是从其它地方传入的。分析通信记录还可以知道哪些地方最有可能传播这一疾病,这对于肯尼亚资金短缺的医疗系统而言是至关重要的信息。还有一个关于通话记录对疫情分析很有价值的例子,马德里的维尼萨?弗莱斯?马丁内斯和西班牙电信研究中心的人员一起,研究了2009年墨西哥的猪流感疫情期间的呼叫记录,结果显示医生的警告并没有达到减少人们外出的目标,然而政府实施的关闭商铺、办公场所等措施却做到了这一点,而这些举措也确实减少了可能发生大规模感染地区的感染人数。

In each of these cases, the data were historical. But there is no reason why CDRs should not be analysed as they come in. That would mean an epidemic’s details could be tracked as they unfolded, and responses organised. In the case of the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, this might make a huge difference. But it is not happening.

在上面的每个案例中,所分析的数据量都是历史数据。但在疫情来临时,没有道理不让实时分析呼叫记录。分析这些记录可以得到疫情传播的细节,跟踪其传播路径,有效组织应对措施。如果做了这些工作,西非的埃博拉病毒爆发将会是另一番景象。遗憾的是事实并非如此。

Crossed wires

That is not for want of trying on the part of researchers, industry executives, charities and official bodies. Since the first signs of the outbreak earlier this year, researchers at Flowminder, a group of epidemiologists from the Karolinska, Harvard and elsewhere that has done much of the pioneering work on CDRs in health crises, have been in discussions with local mobile-phone operators. The group has tried to get access to the phone companies’ records, to build detailed maps of where people are, where they are travelling to, and the effects of government health warnings and travel advisories on the public’s movements.

各方观点

研究者、企业管理层、慈善机构乃至政府部门并非没有作过尝试。一批来自卡罗林斯卡学院、哈佛大学和其它地方的传染病学家在瑞典非营利机构Flowminder对很多公共卫生危机事件中的呼叫记录进行分析,开展了大量前期工作,在今年年初第一次出现爆发势头的时候,他们就在与当地移动运营商进行协商。研究小组希望拿到移动运营商的通信记录,以此建立人们位置和流动的详细地图,并分析政府的健康警告和出行建议对公众的影响。

At the same time, the mobile industry’s trade group, the GSMA, which has worked on technical standards and legal codes to facilitate access to CDRs, took the lead so that researchers could speak with one voice to request data. When the crisis escalated this summer, several United Nations agencies became involved as well.

与此同时,移动运营商协会(GSMA)也在制定技术标准和规章制度,为使用呼叫记录提供便利。由该协会牵头可以让研究人员通过与单一组织对话来获取数据。当今年夏天疫情扩大时,联合国的多个机构也参与了进来。

But from then on it became a muddle. After lots of discussions in September, the process fell apart. The GSMA, set up to be its members’ vassal, has been unable to become their leader. The UN groups turned their attention to other problems, leaving researchers frustrated that the valuable records exist, but remain inaccessible despite the gravity of the crisis.

但这也带来了混乱。经过9月份的数次磋商之后,这一进程搁浅了。GSMA作为为运营商服务的机构,不可能领导企业。而联合国的各个机构则将注意力转移到其它问题上,只留下失望的研究者们望“数”兴叹和疫情的进一步升级。

Releasing the data, though, is not just a matter for firms, since people’s privacy is involved. It requires government action as well. Regulators in each affected country would have to order operators to make their records accessible to selected researchers, who would have to sign legal agreements specifying how the data may be used. Technically, this is fairly straightforward: the standards are well established, as are examples of legal terms. Orange, a big mobile operator, has made millions of CDRs from Senegal and Ivory Coast available for research use for years, under its Data for Development initiative. Rather, the political will to do this among regulators and operators in the region seems to be lacking.

当然,开放这些数据并不单单是企业的事情,这也涉及公众隐私问题。同时也要求政府要有所作为。各相关国家的监管部门要要求运营商只对那些已经签署合法协议,保证规范数据使用范围的研究人员开放这些数据。从技术上而言,这也很简单,已经有标准和合法的模式。法国的Orange公司是一家大型移动运营商,该公司通过《数据发展协议》,数年前就已经将塞内加尔和科特迪瓦数百万的呼叫记录向研究者们开放。然而在这一地区的政府监管部门似乎缺乏与运营商合作的政治意愿。

Cynics might be tempted to blame what seasoned experts in international development refer to as “West Africa International Time” (also known as WAIT). But in this case bureaucratic slowness is not the main problem. Privacy is a factor, as is the risk of disclosing commercial information to rivals?things which would be worries anywhere. But the biggest culprit is novelty. Because there is no precedent for using CDRs in an emergency like Ebola, it is hard to bring the parties together at a high-enough political or management level to make decisions.

愤世嫉俗者也许会把这归咎于国际开发专家所谓的“西非国际时区延迟”。在这一危急中,官僚的拖沓倒不是首要的问题。隐私是一个关键因素,企业要面临被竞争对手获取商业机密的风险,这是任何人都要担心的问题。但最大的担忧是突破陈规。因为还没有过在埃博拉这种紧急情况下使用呼叫记录的先例,要把各方的政治高层和高层管理人员聚集到一起作出决定是很困难的。

Indeed, the UN agency overseeing telecoms standards, the International Telecommunications Union, is in the midst of a high-level diplomatic conference in Busan, South Korea, that will last until November 7th. Yet only a single meeting on CDR access was added to the agenda at the last minute. This underscores the degree to which the world’s institutions have a hard time responding at the pace needed to tackle this particular woe

当然,联合国会负责电信标准的机构??国际电信联盟正在韩国釜山召开全权大会,这场将持续到11月7日的高级别会议,仅仅在会议议程确定的最后时刻才决定加入一场关于呼叫记录使用的专题会议。这突出表明全球的相关机构很难用所需的速度作出反应,以应对埃博拉疫情的不断恶化。

Still, researchers are optimistic that small, pilot projects may create enough momentum to encourage governments to release data more widely. One, in Liberia, is orchestrated by America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Its researchers have advised the health ministry, and local phone companies, on how to analyse aggregated data about calls to the country’s Ebola helpline. That should provide information about how the disease is spreading. But the data are not being released to those with the best qualifications to unlock their insights; they are simply being analysed by researchers locally. Meanwhile time, and the virus, march on.

当然,研究人员还是希望通过小型的、有标志意义的项目来获得足够的支持,推动政府更大程度开放这些数据。在利比里亚,美国的疾病控制与预防中心正在与当地政府合作。研究人员帮助卫生部和移动运营商分析打给埃博拉求助热线的海量电话记录。从这些数据中得出疫情传播的相关信息。这些数据还没有透露给最有资格破解其真正意义的专家们,而只是由当地的研究人员进行简单的研究分析。但时间不等人,埃博拉病毒还在肆虐。


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