Science & Tech

When will the pandemic be over? Computer science may have the answer

In early 2022, practically two years after Covid was declared a pandemic by the World Well being Group, consultants are mulling an enormous query: when is a pandemic “over”?

So, what’s the reply? What standards ought to be used to find out the “end” of Covid’s pandemic section? These are deceptively easy questions and there aren’t any simple solutions.

I’m a pc scientist who investigates the event of ontologies. In computing, ontologies are a way to formally construction data of a topic area, with its entities, relations, and constraints, in order that a pc can course of it in varied purposes and assist people to be extra exact.

Ontologies can uncover data that’s been missed till now: in one occasion, an ontology recognized two further purposeful domains in phosphatases (a gaggle of enzymes) and a novel area structure of part of the enzyme. Ontologies additionally underlie Google’s Information Graph that’s behind these data panels on the right-hand aspect of a search consequence.

Making use of ontologies to the questions I posed initially is beneficial. This method helps to make clear why it’s troublesome to specify a cut-off level at which a pandemic could be declared “over”. The method entails gathering definitions and characterizations from area consultants, like epidemiologists and infectious illness scientists, consulting related analysis and different ontologies, and investigating the character of what entity “X” is.

“X”, right here, can be the pandemic itself – not a mere shorthand definition, however wanting into the properties of that entity. Such a exact characterization of the “X” may also reveal when an entity is “not an X”. For example, if X = home, a property of homes is that all of them should have a roof; if some object doesn’t have a roof, it positively isn’t a home.

With these traits in hand, a exact, formal specification could be formulated, aided by further strategies and instruments. From that, the what or when of “X” – the pandemic is over or it’s not – would logically comply with. If it doesn’t, a minimum of it will likely be doable to clarify why issues aren’t that simple.

This form of precision enhances well being consultants’ efforts, serving to people to be extra exact and talk extra exactly. It forces us to make implicit assumptions express and clarifies the place disagreements could also be.

Definitions and diagrams

I carried out an ontological evaluation of “pandemic”. First, I wanted to seek out definitions of a pandemic.

Informally, an epidemic is an incidence throughout which there are a number of situations of an infectious illness in organisms, for a restricted period of time, that impacts a neighborhood of stated organisms dwelling in some area. A pandemic, at the least, extends the area the place the infections happen.

Subsequent, I drew from present foundational ontologies. This incorporates generic classes like “object”, “process”, and “quality”. I additionally used area ontologies, which comprise entities particular to a topic area, like infectious ailments. Amongst different assets, I consulted the Infectious Illness Ontology and the Descriptive Ontology for Linguistic and Cognitive Engineering.

First, I aligned “pandemic” to a foundational ontology, utilizing a resolution diagram to simplify the method. This helped to work out what sort of factor and generic class “pandemic” is:

(1) Is [pandemic] one thing that’s taking place or occurring? Sure (perdurant, i.e., one thing that unfolds in time, fairly than be wholly current).

(2) Can you be current or take part in [a pandemic]? Sure (occasion).

(3) Is [a pandemic] atomic, i.e., has no subdivisions and has a particular endpoint? No (accomplishment).

The phrase “accomplishment” could appear unusual right here. However, on this context, it makes clear {that a} pandemic is a temporal entity with a restricted lifespan and can evolve – that’s, stop to be a pandemic and evolve again to epidemic, as indicated on this diagram.