The U.S. Needs a FuturICT Program to Confront the Challenges of 21st Century Government

Over a 100 researchers in the top European universities are launching a ten-year Big Science project to create a new science for the 21st Century: FuturICT. FuturICT is the merger of information and communication technologies (ICT), complexity science, and social science to create “socially-adaptive, self-organized ICT systems.” What does that mean and why should we care?

Simply put, our technological society is changing at an ever-increasing speed and complexity that we can no longer manager with our current scientific understanding and “collective experience from our simpler past.” Our best efforts to manage these complex networks often results in “counter-intuitive effects driven by positive feedbacks that lead to domino-like cascades of failures.” We need to create systems that can quickly recover from failures – predictable and unpredictable. We need to create sustainable solutions to our most pressing societal needs. And we need to accomplish in a future of constrained resources and increasing citizen demands.

The European vision of FuturICT is still evolving but three major projects have been identified:

Planetary Nervous System: “The Planetary Nervous System can be imagined as a global sensor network, where ‘sensors’ include anything able to provide static and dynamic data about socio-economic, environmental or technological systems which measure or sense the state and interactions of the components that make up our world. Such an infrastructure will enable real-time data mining – reality mining – using data from online surveys, web and lab experiments and the semantic web to provide aggregate information.”

Living Earth Simulator: “The Living Earth Simulator will enable the exploration of future scenarios at different degrees of detail, integrating heterogeneous data and models and employing a variety of theoretical and modelling perspectives, such as sophisticated agent-based simulations, multi-level mathematical models, and new empirical and experimental approaches. Ideas from complexity science will be compared with graph theoretic approaches and other techniques based on concepts from statistical physics. Exploration will be supported via a ‘World of Modelling’ – an open software platform, comparable to an app-store, to which scientists and developers can upload theoretically informed and empirically validated modelling components that map parts of our real world.”

Global Participatory Platform: “The Global Participatory Platform will be an open framework for citizens, businesses and organisations to be able to share and explore data and simulations, and debate the potential implications. It will democratise ‘big data’, promoting responsible use of information systems and opening up the modelling of complex systems to non-experts. Next generation decision arenas for policy-makers will be developed to evaluate the consequences of interventions, and then opened up and tuned to the needs of the diverse stakeholders. This will enable (1) software developers to add value, e.g. mobile apps that exploit specific datasets or upload data; (2) develop information visualisation tools, e.g. for policy analysts, citizens and researchers; (3) create semantic web services for distributed e-science, and platforms promoting reflective, participatory online debates. This participation will harness and shape the emerging global, social computing infrastructure to tackle various problems. In addition it will equip different scales of collective agent to more effectively sense their environments, interpret signals, debate the assumptions and implications, and make better informed, more collectively owned decisions.”

The U.S. American Association for the Advancement of Science has scheduled a workshop in February 2013 to discuss FuturICT but there doesn’t appear to be any indication of a deeper involvement in FuturICT. This is puzzling given the great benefits of FuturICT and the vast technological and research resources of the U.S. We clearly need to play a bigger role in FuturICT or start our own FuturICT project.

That is why I wrote this post as I hope to encourage excitement about this Big Science project. If you are aware of any U.S. FuturICT, please pass them on. And if any GovLoopers are interested in forming a group around FuturICT, please contact me. This is a much-needed project which can have great benefits for the U.S. government and the American public.

Disclaimer: All views are my own and do not reflect the views of my employers nor any organizations that I am a member of and should not be construed as such.

FuturICT Project Summary (PDF) – Download at

Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply