[ExI] no-touch transmission

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Mon Oct 20 15:36:31 UTC 2014

spike <spike66 at att.net> , 20/10/2014 1:47 PM:
It is difficult to even estimate the potential damage to the airline 
industry and the US economy from even one suspected aircraft-related 
Nah. You can look at the economic costs of 911 flight cancellations and scale things down a bit, then add liability insurance cost for typical Americans - I think the costs are high but bearable. But then again, I might be a bit blasé given my interest in real doomsday scenarios. 
(The relevant factor is whether the costs get distributed widely over a whole industry and society, or borne by an individual institution - a gain-of-function flu outbreak that kills a few hundred Americans would be enough to bankrupt Harvard, according to a quick estimate by Simon Wain-Hobson at the Pasteur Institute). 
Conclusion: flights from the hot zone should be stopped forthwith. 
Alternative: passengers should be given a quarantined and controlled exit. 
This is actually harder than it looks. Will you also close flights to London and Paris? If I want to go from Monrovia or Abidjan to Washington DC, I will likely go via Paris. Close Paris to West African airports? Sure, but what about flights from Nigeria to Lyon? People find their way - and most of these are entirely uninfected, rational people who have good reasons to want to go where they go. 
Quarantine passengers? Now you made travel super-expensive and slow - people will have a strong incentive to try to evade it. Especially given the prospect of being locked up with people who might have Ebola!

These are pretty tricky tools to use right. I am actually reading up on network epidemiology right now, and there are fascinating results there in how managing connectivity can affect dynamics. But that is in the abstract: in practice closing borders is a messy business, and has over the past months likely accelerated the spread of Ebola in Africa (due to limited supplies for healthcare, people now travelling in secret, and causing general unrest).

Anders Sandberg, Future of Humanity Institute Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University
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