Scientists aim to predict the future with $1 billion Earth simulator

Imagine what would happen if you had a computer program that could take in data from sensors everywhere on Earth and then plug that data into a detailed simulation for the entire Earth all at once. If you're imagining being able to predict the future, you're imagining correctly, and E.U. researchers want to make it real.

The Living Earth Simulator is a billion-dollar proposal to spend ten years developing a computer environment that can simulate everything. And not just simulate, but also explore predictive models of how everything going on in the world interrelates with everything else, deriving connections and correlations that we never knew existed.

Like, how much do weather patterns effect pork belly futures? Do wildebeest migrations create a positive or negative change in global warming? If there's an earthquake in Belgium and Myanmar at the same time, will anyone notice, and if so, what'll that do to something seemingly unrelated, like Obamacare? These problems are absurdly complex, and it's going to take a huge pile of money plus a lot of smart people to figure out all the sophisticated agent-based simulations, multi-level mathematical models and new empirical and experimental approaches that will be required to get it all worked out.

To make a simulation of everything, you'll also need lots of accurate data to draw from, which is where the Planetary Nervous System comes in. The Planetary Nervous System will consist of a global network of sensors, both physical and in software, that are continuously mining vast amounts of data from socio-economic, environmental, and technological systems. It'll also be heavily integrated with smartphones and other mobile tech, giving you the option of contributing to the project directly.

In order to get that billion dollars, the Living Earth Simulator has to beat out four other future and emerging technologies projects that are all trying to win funding from the European Commission.

These projects include something about the brain (meh), something about medicine (also meh), graphene research (kinda cool), and an attempt to create "soft skinned and sentient machines." Okay, I'm sold on that last one, but since the E.U. will be funding two of these projects, we should also get a crack at what promises to be the most awesome version of Sim Earth ever created.

The winning projects will be chosen later this year, and work will start in 2013.

Futurict, via MIT

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook