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.
I’ve been rather critical of this effort before, but I think there’s also much to like.
- An infrastructure for curated public data would be extremely useful.
- There’s much to be gained through a multidisciplinary focus on simulation, which is increasingly essential and central to all fields.
- Providing a public portal into the system could have valuable educational benefits.
- Creating more modelers, and more sophisticated model users, helps build capacity for science-based self governance.
But I still think the value of the project is more about creating an infrastructure, within which interesting models can emerge, than it is in creating an oracle that decision makers and their constituents will consult for answers to life’s pressing problems.
- Even with Twitter and Google, usable data spans only a small portion of human existence.
- We’re not even close to having all the needed theory to go with the data. Consider that general equilibrium is the dominant modeling paradigm in economics, yet equilibrium is not a prevalent feature of reality.
- Combinatorial explosion can overwhelm any increase in computing power for the foreseeable future, so the very idea of simulating everything social and physical at once is laughable.
- Even if the technical hurdles can be overcome,
- People are apparently happy to hold beliefs that are refuted by the facts, as long as buffering stocks afford them the luxury of a persistent gap between reality and mental models.
- Decision makers are unlikely to cede control to models that they don’t understand or can’t manipulate to generate desired results.
I don’t think you need to look any further than the climate debate and the history of Limits to Growth to conclude that models are a long way from catalyzing a sustainable world.
If I had a billion Euros to spend on modeling, I think less of it would go into a single platform and more would go into distributed efforts that are working incrementally. It’s easier to evolve a planetary computing platform than to design one.
With the increasing accessibility of computing and visualization, we could be on the verge of a model-induced renaissance. Or, we could be on the verge of an explosion of fun and pretty but vacuous, non-transparent and unvalidated model rubbish that lends itself more to propaganda than thinking. So, I’d be plowing a BIG chunk of that billion into infrastructure and incentives for model and data quality.