Video: Larry Brilliant Explains Why a Pandemic is Inevitable

Larry Brilliant
As expected, Dr. Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist, TED Prize winner , and author, gave a fascinating keynote speech, The End of Pandemics -- Clues from the Cloud, at Dreamforce 2012.

As a consultant to the 2011 movie Contagion, Brilliant insists that a pandemic, one that it would ravage the world's population, is inevitable.

 Brilliant explains how we had a potential pandemic in 2009; that Earth already had a "near miss" with the H1N1, more commonly known as "Swine Flu."

We humans were only able to avoid it because of luck. Without it, swine flu could have mutated into a virus that would have killed hundreds of millions of people.

"I have to say (H1N1) was the biggest near miss in medical history," Brilliant told the Dreamforce crowd, "One or two unhelpful rolls of the genetic dice and H1N1, which infected more than 2 billion people, could have killed hundreds of millions of people."




With scenes from Contagion interspersed throughout his speech, Brilliant explains how a pandemic would likely come from a developing nation, one that shares close quarters with animals. 

"We live with animals... and we share viruses back and forth. The way the world has developed, is that you have these 'pancake houses' where on the bottom you have pigs, in the middle you have chickens, and at top you have humans."

"And we eat the pigs," Brilliant continued, "and what's leftover we cut up - it's call 'rendering' - and we feed it to the chickens, then we cook and eat the chickens and we cut up what's left and we render it and feed it to the pigs." 

Pigs. Humans. Chickens. You couldn't have created a lab experiment to encourage virus mutation than what we do (in these countries)."

As someone that was critical in eradicating smallpox, a virus that was estimated to be responsible for ~500 million deaths in the 20th century, Brilliant went through the history of smallpox to give Dreamforce attendees some context as to what a pandemic looks like.

Brilliant also looked at new ways to leverage technology, and "clues from the cloud," to lower our chances of a pandemic. One such example was  "participatory surveillance," such as the rise in visibility of flu shots over the last several years. 

Scared yet?  Want to learn more about pandemics?  For more details, check out Larry's keynote above. You can also learn more about Dr. Larry Brilliant, the Skoll Foundation or his Seva Foundation.