A zoomed in image of a mosquito on blue denim.

As is outlined on the Microsoft website, ‘our health depends on timely data about the pathogens around us.’ It’s commonly known that as deforestation and changing climates and ecosystems continue to shape our world for the worse, pandemics and infectious diseases are expected to increase in frequency and ferocity. As viruses like Zika move between humans, animals and mosquitoes in complicated cycles, it’s predicted that between 60-70% of emerging infectious diseases are transferred in such cycles. Alarmingly, the coronavirus pandemic is just one of these diseases. The unsustainable nature of our lifestyles means that we’re likely to face similar pandemics in the future. In response to this, Microsoft recently unveiled an updated version of Premonition- a technological means to monitor the pathogens in any given area with AI technology, and halt mass-infection in its tracks.

What is Premonition?

Premonition resembles a large speaker and works by monitoring the insects in its surrounding environment. Using robotic smart arms, Premonition captures and examines insects that are influential in transferring disease-causing pathogens between animals and human populations without harming them. By examining local mosquitoes, Microsoft’s technology can detect which pathogens the insect is carrying and what animal it had been feeding on. Moreover, the technology works on a remarkable scale; the record number of mosquitoes examined during one night was approximately 10,000. Whilst Premonition gathers samples from local mosquitoes, cloud-scale genomic analyses are used to identify the species of organisms and viruses in environmental samples to spot new environmental trends.

Premonition represents the fusion of academic, governmental, and industrial work. Together, workers from these sectors help to deploy and evaluate the effectiveness of Microsoft’s technology. What makes the latest tech so vitally important is that it will allow populations time to prevent a wide spread of an emerging infectious disease. Premonition will afford researchers time to develop treatment, public health organisations time to coordinate their responses and individuals time to minimise their own risk of exposure.

How Do We Know Premonition Will Work?

Premonition has already been tested and has proven itself to be remarkably successful. Microsoft collaborated with Harris County Public Health to test the Premonition technology in Houston during the Zika infection risk of 2016. Robot field biologists could be trained to identify and selectively capture medically relevant mosquitoes with high accuracy (>90%). Studying these mosquitoes allowed scientists to identify the microorganisms and pathogens present within the vicinity. Premonition enabled scientists and researchers to explore regions from the southern tip of Florida to the forests of Tanzania in order to pinpoint virus hotspots and prevent a large spread of an infectious disease.

Looking to the Future...

There are many problems that we need to address as an international community. The negative implications of climate change will be as catastrophic as they are wide-reaching. Whilst Premonition stands to protect us from the greater health risks associated with climate change, it absolutely remains the case that we must address the issue at its core, by making the necessary changes to make our lifestyles more sustainable and climate neutral.

Sources: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/project/project-premonition/  https://news.microsoft.com/innovation-stories/microsoft-premonition/