April 27, 2010, 8:52 a.m.
Newsweek examines the work of Intellectual Ventures, a Seattle-based startup that is "trying to develop a computer model that could help eradicate malaria." According to the magazine, "Intellectual Ventures is one of those companies that aren't well known today but might be tomorrow, a place where people are working on the frontiers of technology and are not bothered in the least by the knowledge that whatever they're doing might not work out. ... What sets Intellectual Ventures apart is the size and significance of what its researchers are trying to do -- their work could end up saving millions of lives. The company has been around since 2000 and is run by Nathan Myhrvold, the former chief technology officer at Microsoft. The malaria research hasn't yet resulted in a marketable product; much of the company's business involves buying up patents and using them to generate licensing fees." Intellectual Ventures uses "Mon te Carlo modeling, which requires tremendous computing power and is used widely on Wall Street and in physics." Its employees, some of whom are profiled in the article, "have created a software model that can incorporate thousands of variables to run 'what if' scenarios and simulate outbreaks of malaria on a computer. The idea is to help doctors choose which approaches to take in a given area, so they can use resources more wisely. ... Researchers using the model were able to figure out how frequently the disease is spread by mosquitoes that bite people when they're outside and not sleeping. The model even lets researchers see the effect of potential vaccines that don't yet exist, so they can choose which one to develop. Better yet, the software can be applied not only to malaria but also to polio, HIV, and tuberculosis," Newsweek writes (Lyons, 4/9).