TAU researcher fights viral and virtual epidemics

TAU’s Dr. Dan Yamin has developed a data tracking system applicable to both infectious diseases like coronavirus and anti-Israel bias on social media. He cites human behavior as a key factor in transmitting both. Yamin, who directs the Epidemic Modeling and Analysis Laboratory at TAU’s Fleischman College of Engineering, says his approach builds on what traditional epidemiology lacks: data on human behavior.

“At the core of any transmission process are contact mixing patterns,” explains Yamin. “These patterns represent the social interactions of individuals”, adding that, when it comes to the spread of disease, “who does not consider these elements completely misses the point.” Together with Professor Irad Ben-Gal, head of TAU’s AI, Machine Learning, Business Analytics and Data Lab, Yamin developed a tool for predicting transmission dynamics based on the movements of people tracked on their mobile phones. When COVID-19 broke out in Israel, Yamin consulted for the Israel Ministry of Health, predicting local outbreaks with this phone data system.

“The tool is not only useful for local detection of the virus, but also for creating simulations of the spread of the virus, which tells us what will happen if one policy is replaced by another,” he says. For example, Yamin’s team recommended to the Health Ministry that nurseries should reopen, based on the data they collected.

Additionally, Yamin found that blocks targeting high-risk groups and localized infection groups are up to 5 times more efficient in reducing mortality compared to a national blockade strategy. This finding prompted the Israeli government to adopt its current selective shutdown approaches. Now, months later, Yamin and his team are developing a tool for the early detection of COVID-19 infection.

based on mobile phone sensors that measure step count, sleep habits and other parameters.

Think viral, tweet viral
Before joining TAU, Yamin completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale University School of Public Health. While there, he was concerned about the level of anti-Israeli sentiment on American social media and its ability to go viral. He immediately made the connection. Building on the same patterns that he studied in disease transmission, Yamin began creating a system that uses artificial intelligence to identify how certain groups use viral marketing tactics to spread anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli messages.

The system, known as Iron Dome for social media, aims to track and identify malicious content with the potential to go viral in terms of social media. Yamin explains that people who casually retweet posts are very much like carriers of asymptomatic diseases. Many Twitter users will inadvertently transmit information with covert or explicit anti-Semitic messages.

Choosing when to reply on social media is a delicate matter. Therefore, Yamin suggests using AI, as in his Iron Dome system, to help with the decision-making process. “Being proactively pro-Israel on social media is not always the best approach,” says Dr.
Yamin. “Most anti-Israel tweets are not viral, so why waste time on tweets that go nowhere?”

The next generation of disease control.
As Israel and the world face the second wave of COVID-19, Yamin says: “For the moment, we need to live with this virus. If we act responsibly and maintain the daily routine for the vast majority of the population, we will not achieve catastrophe. ”Looking to the future, Yamin believes that data-driven methodologies like his are crucial in managing future viral diseases. As such, Yamin will be a key member of TAU’s Multidisciplinary Center to Fight Pandemics, the world’s first center of its kind. “Data systems like this can substantially improve the accuracy of medical diagnosis in the future,” he says.

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