An international team of scientists are looking to create what BBC News is calling “one of the most ambitious computer projects ever conceived”–a simulation that will virtually reproduce all activity on Earth, from human activity to climate to the spread of diseases and beyond.
According to BBC Technology Reporter Gareth Morgan, the project is part of the FuturICT initiative and is being dubbed the Living Earth Simulator (LES). The proposed simulation is the brainchild of Dr. Dirk Helbing, Chair of Sociology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and according to Morgan, it will aim “to advance the scientific understanding of what is taking place on the planet.”
“Many problems we have today – including social and economic instabilities, wars, disease spreading – are related to human behavior, but there is apparently a serious lack of understanding regarding how society and the economy work,” Dr. Helbing told BBC News on Monday. “Revealing the hidden laws and processes underlying societies constitutes the most pressing scientific grand challenge of our century.”
The project was reportedly inspired by the Large Hadron Collider, the high-energy particle accelerator operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) that is currently being used to study such universal phenomenon as the existence of antimatter and dark matter. Dr. Helbing told Morgan that the project would require a massive amount of data, not to mention a new, currently unbuilt supercomputer “capable of carrying out number-crunching on a mammoth scale.”
“Although the hardware has not yet been built, much of the data is already being generated,” the BBC News report says. “For example, the Planetary Skin project, led by US space agency NASA, will see the creation of a vast sensor network collecting climate data from air, land, sea and space”¦ In addition, Dr Helbing and his team have already identified more than 70 online data sources they believe can be used including Wikipedia, Google Maps and the UK government’s data repository Data.gov.uk.”
“Integrating such real-time data feeds with millions of other sources of data– from financial markets and medical records to social media–would ultimately power the simulator,” Morgan also writes, citing Dr. Helbing as a source. “The next step is [to] create a framework to turn that morass of data in to models that accurately replicate what is taken place on Earth today,” but “that will only be possible by bringing together social scientists and computer scientists and engineers to establish the rules that will define how the LES operates.”
In addition to the Living Earth Simulator, which is described on the FutureICT website as a “global-scale simulation of techno-socio-economic systems,” the organization plans to create “crisis observatories” for financial, resource management, and health care purposes, as well as set up an “innovation accelerator” program that will help experts find innovations quickly in a variety of different disciplines and help the various projects get created.
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