Monday, September 26, 2011

FuturICT's Crisis Observatory 4: Global Flight Simulator

We continue with FuturICT's proposal for a paradigm shifting initiative to bring the world together.
The problems and situations created by computers, can best be solved by computers.  Complexity that was created by our automated, instant nanosecond world, cannot be monitored in traditional ways.  

The changes that can be created stun the brain in their immediacy. Humans must monitor the world, but they must do it through computers that can monitor so many events, at such fast speeds, that they can give their human masters predictions of future events with enough time to react and prevent disasters.  Helbing puts this succinctly.
The complexity of modern technology lies far beyond the capacity of the human brain to comprehend or analyze in detail. Information technology can considerably expand this capacity. For example, scientists and engineers rely on massive computer power and data processing on a hitherto unimagined scale to design and test everything from cars and electronic devices to medical drugs. We face even greater complexity in our socio-economic systems, especially in interaction with the rapidly expanding technological infrastructures such as the Internet and the Earth's vast, multi-component environment. Only recently, however, have we begun to exploit the power of information technology to build a better understanding of the Earth-human system, and to improve our capacity to manage this system on the basis of well-founded knowledge.
This system will be able to act as a “flight simulator” for the development and testing of sound policies in the face of a complex and uncertain world. Dirk Helbing
Global Flight Simulator
There are decisions that need to be made by governments and nations that may have significant or even vital effects far off in the future.  It would extremely valuable if simulations could be run with "what if" scenarios.  Of course these simulations would need to depend on billions of "sensors."  These sensors would provide the simulator with the proper synthetic nerve endings to get accurate and solid information.
This system will be able to act as a “flight simulator” for the development and testing of sound policies in the face of a complex and uncertain world. Such a system would gather and process data on a massive scale, giving politicians and other decision-makers, but also citizens, a much better knowledge on which to base decisions. It would enable us to explore the possible or likely consequences of even barely imaginable scenarios, effectively helping humanity to see just a little around the corner and into the likely future. 
The complexity of these simulations would requite massive computing power however.  Yet the benefits would also be immense, especially in cost savings.  Helbing estimates that even reducing the "impact of sporadic economic crisis by only 1 percent would save the European Union billions of Euros every year."  Helbing sees this as a Planetary Nervous System.  He explains that,
...the need for a new data science or “social information theory” allowing us to understand under what conditions, 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” include anything able to provide data in real-time about socio-economic, environmental or technological systems (including the Internet). Such an infrastructure will enable real-time data mining (“reality mining”) and the calibration and validation of coupled models of socio-economic, technological and environmental systems with their complex interactions. It will even be possible to extract suitable models in a data-driven way, guided by theoretical knowledge.
Global Participatory Platform 
In case one imagines that this is initiative is an elite program, a black box that only certain technocrats can peer into they would be wrong.  This initiative is a populist one in many ways.
The Global Participatory Platform will promote communication, coordination, cooperation and the social, economic and political participation of citizens beyond what is possible through the eGovernance platforms of today. In this way, FuturICT will create opportunities to reduce the gap between users and providers, customers and producers etc., facilitating a participation in industrial and social value generation chains. Building on the success principles of Wikipedia and the Web2.0, societies will be able to harness the knowledge and creativity of multiple minds much better than we can do today. The Global Participatory Platform will also support the creation of interactive virtual worlds. Using techniques such as serious multi-player online games, we will be able to explore possible futures – not only for different designs of shopping malls, airports, or city centers, but also for different financial architectures or voting systems.
This factor will prevent this vital information from being privatized and commercialized solely for the benefit of profit.  It has a greater vision, a grander vision for the public good.  In some ways, this will be a crowdsourced movement, true building from the bottom up.

We must all work together.  All nations, all people.  This cannot be a government project, or a corporate project, or even an universal individual project.  It must include all sectors.  We include a small video which speaks of a global partnership to help work together to keep our culture safe.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

Obviously, when it comes to climate change factors we must all work together.  We present a video mostly for inspirational purposes concerning how all must unite to preserve a way of life and culture that we have had for at least 200 years in a renewed way, which lives at peace and harmony with nature.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link:

The Dangers Of A Connected World
Some may doubt the veracity of the idea that small events can have world consequences.  Helbing cites examples. One example was an electrical blackout that occurred on November 4, 2006.  This butterfly effect on a complex system was caused by a solitary decision to shut down the power to an electrical line crossing the river Ems to allow a ship to pass.
On the night of November 4, in parts of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain and Portugal over fifteen million households were left without power after a big cascading breakdown. The root cause was an overload triggered by the German electricity company E.ON switching off an electricity line over the river Ems to allow the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl to pass through safely. The impact of this disconnection on the security of the network had not been properly assessed, and resulted in the European transmission grid splitting into three independent parts for a period of two hours. The imbalance between generation and demand in each section resulted in the power outages for consumers.*
But these kinds of solitary events do not just affect electrical grids, they can bring down entire commercial enterprises- like Skype.
On December 22, 2010, Skype pushed a faulty auto-update of its Internet telephony software. This lead to a crash and reboot of most Skype supernodes, a crucial part of their distributed systems. To make things worse, the reboot of the supernodes launched a distributed denial of service attack on the central Skype servers, thus incapacitating worldwide traffic.
The most amazing example of intervening factors all interconnected was the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.  Where factors like earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns, alternative energy, revolutions, and lack of food all met in a disastrous nexus. 
The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake in Japan caused a tsunami that triggered an atomic chain reaction and disaster in several nuclear reactors at Fukushima. Soon afterwards, several countries, including Germany and Switzerland, decided to exit nuclear energy generation over the next decade(s). However, alternative energy scenarios turn out to be politically vulnerable. Two of three major regions providing Europe with gas do not seem to be entirely reliable. Moreover, Europe’s DESERTEC project, which planned to invest 1000 billion EUR into infrastructure to supply solar energy for Europe, has now an uncertain future due to another political unexpected event, the Arab Spring. This was triggered in particular by high food prices, which were no longer affordable to many people. These resulted in part from biofuel production, which intended to improve the global CO2 balance, but instead competed with food production. The increasing food prices were further amplified by financial speculation.
Thus if humans have always lived in a dangerous world, they live in one even more dangerous one now.  The very technology which has made them feel safe, the world system of interconnections, has left us with invisible (at least to humans), minute factors which threaten to engulf us and lead us to an possibly unknown and alien world.

In our next installment, we shall investigate the nuts and bolts of how FuturICT intends to implement this global system.

1 comment:

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