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Workshop applies theory of networks in breaking the coronavirus


Covid illustration

Image courtesy Moogsoft

June 10, 2020

The race is on to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, but while we wait, can we discover smarter ways to manage the pandemic than opportunistic piecemeal intervention? That challenge was taken up by Arizona State University’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science in collaboration with California AIOps company Moogsoft. 

They held an international virtual workshop of about 40 participants, May 28-29, titled Beyond COVID-19: Modeling Sustainable Exit Strategies. It followed the tradition of Beyond Center workshops of bringing together scientists from diverse disciplines to brainstorm foundational concepts and novel ideas at the cutting edge of research, in an informal and inclusive atmosphere.

The Beyond Center had already built up its expertise in the theory of networks, which find application to systems as diverse as prebiotic chemical reactions, cancer gene regulation, ecosystems, the internet and neuroscience. A pandemic is also a network, in which the infection is passed from person to person and spreads out across the world. 

The workshop focused on using insights from the other disciplines to better understand the dynamics of the pandemic and to explore the possibility of interventions that modify the network structure, rendering it more manageable.

Moogsoft’s business applies artificial intelligence to improve the stability and uptime of large computer networks by analyzing vast quantities of data accumulated from monitoring the incessant glitches that plague complex systems, and help keep us all zooming, emailing and tweeting without interruption. In the case of COVID-19, participants took the opposite track, aiming to hack a network (the virus) and render it unstable. A glitch in the pandemic network could translate into many lives saved.

The workshop included complexity theorists, network theorists and modelers from Europe, Australia and the U.S. Topics covered included network dynamics, herd immunity, contact tracing challenges and limitations, and agent-based modeling applied to the successful COVID-19 containment strategy in Australia. 

Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center, remarked that the theory of networks is an established field of research stretching across many disciplines. 

“Treating COVID-19 using network theory meshes perfectly with the transdisciplinary ethos at ASU,” he said. “Although it is too late to stamp out the outbreak, we can analyze different lockdown exit strategies in terms of their human and financial cost, to be better prepared to tackle any second or third wave by smart intervention strategies.”

Building on the success of the workshop, Moogsoft and the Beyond Center are planning additional meetings and cooperation with the ASU College of Health Solutions, aiming to use the best ideas in scientific theory to make the world safer for all.

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