Supercomputer project aims to simulate the whole world

Posted by Emma Woollacott

In a sort of giant Sim game, scientists are planning to use some of the world's largest supercomputers to simulate all life on Earth, including the financial system, economies and whole societies.

The project is called Living Earth Simulator, and forms part of a huge EU research initiative named FuturIcT. It will unite various existing projects and expand upon them.

For example, ETH Zurich is simulating the travel activities of all 7.5 million inhabitants of Switzerland to forecast and cope with traffic congestion.

Other researchers are mining huge amounts of financial data to detect dangerous bubbles in stock and housing markets, potential bankruptcy cascades in networks of companies, or similar vulnerabilities in other complex networks such as the internet.

Other existing simulations reveal common patterns behind the breakdown of social order in events as diverse as the war in former Yugoslavia, lootings after earthquakes or other natural disasters, or the recent violent demonstrations in Greece.

But there are even greater ambitions for the FuturIcT project, which also aims to bring in data from field studies and laboratory experiments, along with data from the internet and even games such as Second Life.

An ethics committee promises to make sure individual identities are kept secret.

The scientists behind the project foresee the development of crisis observatories and decision-support systems for politicians and business leaders.

"Such observatories would detect advance warning signs of many different kinds of emerging problems, including large-scale congestion, financial instabilities, the spreading of diseases, environmental change, resource shortages and social conflicts," " says the project's Dirk Helbing.