Monday, May 23, 2011

Epilepsy: When computer science and medical science meet

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to write some blog posts dealing with epilepsy. One of my sons - maybe it is fair to say, the entire family - has been fighting epilepsy for some years now. We don't know when his epilepsy really started, it has been at least 2 years with visible impact. We expect that it is gone now because he had surgery about 3 weeks ago to remove a brain tumor which caused his epilepsy.

During our visits to doctors and clinics, by talking with other parents and meeting kids with various forms of epilepsy, and by reading we learned a lot. The more we learned, the clearer it got to me how close both computer science and epilepsy are. In computer science, e.g., for database systems, we care about cluster and high availability technologies. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that impacts the CPU, the main board, and the I/O system that we humans utilize.

What I find interesting is that about one in every hundred has or had epilepsy and that there are more than 40 different kinds of epilepsy syndromes. Some can be dealt with (controlled) by drugs, some cured by surgery, but for many neither works. We learned that the human brain uses advanced technologies to guarantee high availability and to recover from failures. Often, single point of failure is avoided. For computer issues we call in service and have parts replaced. For us humans, however, we should be grateful when our core system is running "normal" - many don't share this fortune...