The conversation about Google Flu Trends was extremely interesting to me. I never knew that Google tried to predict flu hotspots using search strings and the sale of commodities back in 2009. It appeared very revolutionary in the beginning because being able to predict future flu hotspots is a great way to reallocate hospital supplies before an area is hit with the disease (as we saw with the allocation of ventilators and other medical supplies during the SARS-COV-2 pandemic). After initial success, the predictions of Google Flu Trends actually resulted in worse allocation because the predictive model was not as accurate as expected. By 2013, Google shelved the program because it became a sort of embarrassment for the company.
I think it’s very easy to maintain that the future is in Artificial Intelligence or that robots will be able to predict and control our lives in the future. How can we not? So many Sci-Fi Dystopias paint this picture. However, I believe that we are truly a long way off. Whether it was predicting Flu hotspots in 2009 or COVID-19 in 2020, the trends have been very similar. Having the foresight to predict hotspots was virtually impossible; having the hindsight once an area is affected to delineate the contributing factors not so much. I don’t think that has changed much between 2009, 2020, or (I would argue) 2040.