Uni boffins reveal secret to surviving a zombie apocalypse

Zombie Day of walking dead
Zombie Day of walking dead

Computer science, the national curriculum and the zombie apocalypse have come together, in a new study by the Open University.

Computing expert Dr Neil Smith, who is based at Milton Keynes, has created a programme that models a zombie apocalypse to tell us what our best chance of survival is.

Open University zombie study graphs

Open University zombie study graphs

And Dr Smith, who has been involved in a recent government overhaul of the computer science curriculum, hopes that similar programmes to his zombie survival model could encourage schoolchildren to develop a passion for computers (or to simply survive a plague of the undead!).

He said: “The results were surprising, but that shows why actually studying something - rather than going on your gut reaction or what you see in films - is so important.

“You’d expect that when people packed together they’d be more likely to survive. Actually it was the opposite.

“When people clump together they attracted zombies and were simply ground down. Quite simply, you’re best off on your own.

“The tipping point depends on how many people are in a group, and how infectious zombies are - and by using the programme you can change various factors yourself to see how likely it is that people would survive.”

Dr Smith’s dayjob sees him researching artificial intelligence at The Open University.

His zombie study is underpinned by a computer programme that combines technologies to predict the spread of infectious diseases with mapping technologies to simulate the ‘flocking behaviours’ of birds, fish and humans to seek out others for mutual defence.

This is applied with computer modelling and data to a zombie apocalypse scenario.

His study does not include other reasons why people might stay in groups, such as staying awake as a look-out or helping to gather food and water. But he still believes that the best way to stay safe is to keep away from other humans as much as possible.

He added: “It’s all or nothing with zombies – either the outbreak subsides, or everyone dies.

“Personally, in the event of an outbreak, I’ll be fighting the instinct to stay with other people. Running and avoiding others – it’s really the only way to stay safe.”

Dr Smith’s computer programme is freely available for people to download and run themselves with adjustable scenarios. Users will need to install and register on NetLogo, available for free at https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/ and then visit www.computing.open.ac.uk/People/neil.smith

Dr Neil Smith’s top three tips for surviving the zombie apocalypse:

1/ Avoid other people – groups will attract zombies, and once one person is infected the rest will follow;

2/ Find a safe spot and wait it out, until scavenging wildlife and decomposing organisms destroy the zombies;

3/ Hope that the zombies are weak or not very infectious so that you can avoid them or fend them off.