A team of Swiss researchers thinks it has created an algorithm capable of tracking almost anything -- from computer viruses to terrorist attacks to epidemics -- back to the source using a minimal amount of data. The trick is focusing on time to figure out who “infected” whom.
No, Vanilla Ice isn’t dead — and if he had access to a new algorithm from Swiss researcher Pedro Pinto, the Ice Man could go all techno-ninja and track down who started the rumor claiming he was. That’s because Pinto and his colleagues at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have developed an algorithm for finding the source of such rumors, as well as viruses (physical and digital) and other maladies, even across highly complex networks.
Their method, according to an abstract of a paper just published in Physical Review Letters, is ideal for situations where there is relatively little data to work with, and is “based on the principles used by telecommunication towers to pinpoint cell phone users.” Essentially, the algorithm starts by looking at a small collection of points within a network and working back from there to determine the origin, kind of like how investigators can zero in on a cell phone’s location using triangulation. The more connections, or observers, a particular point has, the fewer that are needed to track down the source point.