Long story about how I come to get a call from Matt Abud at ABC asking to discuss this article from Japan. But its interesting to see the kind of thing people are proposing these days. Here's some of the original article from behind a firewall.
The details have yet to be fixed, but SoftBank hopes to pick a school with about 1,000 students and give them phones equipped with GPS. The locations of the children will be recorded every minute of the day and stored on a central server. [Storage and processing power needed will be mind boggling]
A few students will be chosen to be considered "infected", and their movements over the previous few days will be compared with those of everyone else. The stored GPS data can then be used to determine which children have crossed paths with the infected students and are at risk of having contracted the disease. [Depends entirely on knowing who is infected in the first place and the incubation period. Highly likely rthat public serrvice announcements will be more effective than trying to track each one.]
The families of exposed students will be notified by messages to their mobile phones, instructing them to be examined by doctors. In a real outbreak, that could limit the rate of new infections.
"The number of people infected by such a disease quickly doubles, triples and quadruples as it spreads. If this rate is decreased by even a small amount, it has a big effect in keeping the overall outbreak in check," said Masato Takahashi, an infrastructure strategist at Softbank.
He demonstrates with a calculation: if an infected person makes about three more people sick per day, and each newly infected person then makes another three people sick, on the 10th day about 60,000 people would catch the disease. If each sick person instead infected two people a day, on the 10th day about 1,000 people would get sick. [Depending on the illness and incubation period, these figures are suspect, while true the real world possibilities will be much higher. There will also be a natural brake anyway as infections rise and already infected people contact already infected people.]
The experiment was conceived before the outbreak of swine flu, but has drawn attention now that Japan has the highest number of confirmed cases outside North America.
It is one of 24 trials the government recently approved as part of a programme to promote new uses for Japan's internet and cellular infrastructure. The country has some of the most advanced mobile phone technology in the world. It is blanketed in high-speed mobile networks, and phones come standard with features such as GPS, television and touchless train passes. [Maybe they could lock people out of systems if there was an infection inside, or vice versa]
The scheme raises privacy concerns, and one of the goals of the Japanese experiment is to judge how participants feel about having their location constantly recorded.
If a disease-tracking system were launched for real, no one would be required to sign up, Takuo Imagawa, an official at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, said.
Another concern for the experiment is how to inform people that they may be infected, even if it's just a virtual disease.
"If we don't think carefully about the nature of the warning, people that get such a message could panic," Katsuya Uchida, a professor at the Institute of Information Security in Yokohama, said. [Exactly, the level of education necessary to ensure that such panic will not occur will also ensure that people are sufficiently aware of the situation and will be constantly checking. In any case, I would bet Twitter beats them to it.]
SoftBank Telecom, the subsidiary that made the original proposal, might not be chosen by the ministry to run the experiment in autumn. But Mr Takahashi said that whichever company was chosen, he hoped the potential benefits of a monitoring system would be enough to persuade people to sign up and reveal their whereabouts.
There are a couple of tracks on this, the first is some preliminary discussion that we mostly didn't cover in the full interview. The second is the recorded interview, although it merges about 8:30 into a bit of extra discussion that was not meant for broadcast so I have trimmed out Matt's side of the conversation and just rambled on.