Dirk Helbing, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, announced the plan at a science briefing held by the Swiss Mission in Brussels yesterday (11 October).
“A Galilean paradigm shift in thinking is needed. Future challenges cannot be solved within our current paradigm!” Helbing said referring to the financial and economic crisis.
The problem lies not in the crisis events themselves, according to Helbing, but in the perspectives used for dealing with them, which are “too component-oriented rather than being interaction-oriented”.
Computers are thinking for themselves, badly
ICT systems such as computers, smartphones and software agents are made up of billions of non-linearly interacting components which increasingly take autonomous decisions. Computers are therefore making subjective interpretations of the world and expectations regarding future conditions, making them ‘artificial social systems’, Helbing said.
He cited computer-based automatic trading strategies – which perform the majority of transactions in the world financial system – as a prime example.
These are not designed and tested for the collective behaviour of their components, Helbing said, and result in a lack of co-ordination, instabilities, an inefficient use of resources, conflicts of interest and cybercrime.
The Swiss platform FuturICT wants to create a ‘techno-socio-economic knowledge accelerator’, a large multi-disciplinary platform for computational social science.
The aim is to create a new platform over a ten-year period to tackle societal challenges such as energy efficiency, climate change, and demographic problems.
A new device to colour code the world for happiness
A crisis observatory and interactive virtual world are envisioned as part of the scheme and the Swiss are calling on a European multi-disciplinary effort.
At the centre of the system, FuturICT want to create a ‘planetary nervous system’ aiming to measure the state of the world in real time through intricate social-media data mining, which would be able to predict earthquakes and other natural disasters much more effectively.
Other key objectives include creating an observatory of social well-being that will measure social capital and colour code the world’s countries on the basis of how ‘happy’ they are. This would be done based on indices measuring solidarity, trust, health and environmental care.
The aim is to create “better indices than GDP to measure the wellbeing of society”, Helbing said.
FuturICT has received the backing of universities, five supercomputing centres, financier George Soros, the EU’s Joint Research Centre and the OECD.