Inventor of Microsoft's Spam Filter Out to Kill HIV

David Heckerman says spam, HIV present similar challenges

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 2, 2011 10:09 AM CST

(Newser) – David Heckerman, the man who invented the spam filter for Microsoft, is taking on another scourge against humanity: HIV. Sound like a stretch? It’s not, Heckerman insists: He’s a medical doctor, and HIV and spam are strangely similar problems. "We have an adversarial situation going on between spam filters trying to block the spam and the spammers changing and mutating," he tells the LA Times. "And in the case of HIV, we have the immune system fighting the virus and HIV mutating to try to get through."

Heckerman is doing his HIV research at Microsoft, using its massive computers to sift through huge amounts of data in search of HIV’s "Achilles heel"—the one aspect that just can't mutate without the virus dying out. "It can’t mutate to where it stops functioning," he explains. "If it does do that, we win." Because if Heckerman and his team are able to locate the places where a mutation causes the virus to die, they can use that info to design a vaccine. It's the same thing he did with spam. "In the case of spammers, they want to extract money from you. That's what they can't avoid. So our spam filters, at least in part, focus on that."

A screenshot from Microsoft's video on its HIV research.   (YouTube)
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Microsoft Research's video explaining its HIV project.   (MicrosoftResearch)

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