A little over a year after Google.org's Larry Brilliant presented his vision for a network-based global tracking, early warning and rapid-response system for epidemics and disasters (codename INSTEDD - see this previous post for the whole backstory), things are now moving. Brilliant posted last month an update, saying that he has now a staff of 25 at the for-profit/non-profit Google.org, including some real heavy hitters (via Seekerblog). He says:
We are "looking to better understand the inextricable linkages among climate change, global public health and economic development, and the impact of global warming on the poor. We want to fund projects that are making a difference and that are effective on a large scale".
One of those projects is indeed INSTEDD (International Networked System for Total Early Disease Detection). Peter Carpenter, a former executive director of Stanford University Medical Center, has been named INSTEDD president, and Judy Kleinberg its director -- she started by setting up an office in Palo Alto, travelling to the United Nations to enlist partner agencies, and thinking about possible names for the dot-org company, to replace what the Mercury News calls "a tortured acronym". The company has $2.5 million from Google.org this year to get off the ground. The staff members, some of whom work pro bono, are dispersed around the world.
I recently met Larry Brilliant in Oxford and asked him why he has abandoned the idea of building INSTEDD on top of the already-existing Canadian system GPHIN, which he pointed out as the model during his original TED2006 speech (see video or read summary). He told me that he had realized he could build something "way more powerful" in a shorter time by relying on the Google resources and on those of many partners, including technology companies and organizations active in disaster prevention and response.
According to a status report posted on the TED website after the last TED conference, the new system is currently undergoing its first pilot project. Working with the Rockefeller Foundation and NTI (Nuclear Threat Initiative), six countries along the Mekong River (Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and the Hunan region of China) will do a tabletop exercise about how they would react to a pandemic flu.