researcher from the Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology has joined forces with a
group of scientists to create a grandiose computer project capable of
simulating everything we know.
Dirk Helbing, chairman of the FuturICT
project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, along
with a team of scientists, have begun to collaborate on an Earth
project that could change how we see the world -- literally.
computer project has been nicknamed the Living
Earth Simulator (LES), and the idea behind it is to simulate
everything on Earth, such as the spread of diseases, congestion on
roads, international financial transactions and weather patterns. The
project is aimed to epitomize both human and environmental actions
that shape our world.
until now, technology like the Large Hadron Collider, which is a
particle accelerator created by Cern, has been one of the only Earth
projects that provides a larger perspective of the universe. But
Helbing argues that projects like the Large
Hadron Collider do not provide enough information about our
own planet, and that we need an accelerator that combines different
branches of knowledge about Earth alone.
the hidden laws and processes underlying societies constitutes the
most pressing scientific grand challenge of our century," said
and his team are looking to feed this computer
system a "mammoth" amount of data, and then teach
it how to understand what all the data means so it can interpret
changes and patterns. Every piece of data involving activity on Earth
will have to be logged into the simulator, and this simulator will be
powered by supercomputers that can crunch these numbers on a large
scale. According to Helbing, "much of the data is already being
generated." They are already currently using more than 70 online
data sources such as Google Maps and Wikipedia.
integrating a monstrous amount of data into the simulator, Helbing
and his team will use the knowledge of computer scientists, social
scientists and engineers to build a framework to convert this data
into models that mimic what is happening on Earth at that moment.
next step is to help the simulator understand what all the data and
models mean. According to Helbing, the supercomputers will be able to
do this over time. With semantic web technology, researchers will be
able to encode the data alongside a description of the data, which
helps the simulator to better understand exactly what it is reading.
This not only applies to environmental, financial, or medical data,
but human behavior as well.
problems we have today - including social and economic instabilities,
- are related to human behavior, but there is apparently a serious
lack of understanding regarding how society and the economy work,"
the simulator will follow human behavior, it will also "strip
out" any information in its data that relates directly to the
person so that no personal information is leaked or shared. An
approach to carrying out such an amount of economic and social data
still needs to be agreed upon by researchers, but once they cross
that threshold, supercomputers will
be built to suit this particular task as well.
noted that generating the amount of computational power to run the
LES will be challenging, but will in no way halt the project.
Researchers working for the FuturICT project hope the LES will lead
to better methods of measuring the state of society, which could
further help with environmental,
health and educational problems.
and sociology have consistently failed to produce theories with
strong predictive powers over the last century, despite lots of data
gathering," said Helbing. "I'm skeptical that larger data
sets will mark a big change. It's not that we don't know enough about
a lot of the problems the world faces, from climate
change to extreme poverty, it's that we don't take any
action on the information we do have."
Helbing also says that the technology that will be used for the LES
will only become available in the coming decade, meaning that it will
be able to produce models and images as well as learn data in a whole
new way, which will ultimately help researchers and world leaders
develop new methods of improving societal issues.
the past years, it has for example become obvious that we need better
indicators than the gross national product to judge societal
development and well-being," said Helbing.