What if global scale computing facilities were available that could analyse most of the data available in the world? What insights could scientists gain about the way society functions? What new laws of nature would be revealed? Could society discover a more sustainable way of living? Developing planetary scale computing facilities that could deliver answers to such questions is the long term goal of FuturICT. This initiative is seeking to develop Information and Communications Technologies that will provide scientists, governmental officials and citizens with a planetary scale computer which is called a Living Earth Platform. The Living Earth Platform will provide the means of analysing data and managing complex events. It could for example provide a basis for predicting natural disasters, or managing and responding to man-made disasters that cross national borders or even continents. The intention is to undertake interdisciplinary research, involving domains such as complexity, computer and the social sciences, to address the scientific challenges associated with the realisation of this goal and the needed advances in Information and Communication Technologies.
Prof. Steven Bishop
University College London, UK
FuturICT will, therefore, create sustainable, socio-inspired technologies – ICT systems that self-organize and socially adapt to users, their respective contexts, and to individual and collective needs. It will create a Living Earth Platform, which includes mainly three levels: the techno-socio-economic “flight simulator” (also called “Living Earth Simulator”), a “Planetary Nervous System”, and a Global Participatory Platform. The simulator will require the development of interactive decentralized supercomputing that scales up to global-level systems and allows one to study the impact of different possible decisions, i.e. to explore various future scenarios at different degrees of detail, employing a variety of perspectives and methods (such as agent-based simulations, where agents are sophisticated and equipped with cognitive features). This requires us to establish a World of Modeling – an open platform comparable to an app-store, where scientists and developers can provide theoretically informed and empirically validated modeling components that map parts of our real world. It also needs a coupling with huge amounts of data, which will become available by integrating various data sources coming from online surveys, web and lab experiments, and from large-scale data mining.
This is, where the Planetary Nervous System comes in – and the need for a new data science, a “social information theory” that allows us to understand when and how new knowledge is created from existing pieces of information. The Planetary Nervous System can be imagined as a global sensor network, where sensors mean everything that provides data about techno-socioeconomic-environmental systems in real-time (including the internet). Such an infrastructure will allow one to do reality mining on a global scale and to measure the socio-economic-environmental footprint of human actions, i.e. to create a greater awareness of the possible implications of human decisionmaking. This will result in better tools to increase human well-being than the gross national product is today.
The massive amounts of data produced will also enable one to calibrate and validate models of techno-socio-economic systems, and even to extract suitable models in a data-driven way, guided by theoretical knowledge. Note, however, that FuturICT is not interested in tracking individual behavior. It rather wants to understand the macroscopic interdependencies resulting from social interactions. In fact, FuturICT will promote the development of a trusted web and of privacy-respecting data mining technologies that give users back control over their data. FuturICT wants to benefit society and not control it. Therefore, FuturICT will also have a strong research focus on ethical issues, and it is committed to informing the public about the use of socio-economic data and to counter-acting misuse of data and ICT.