Thursday, May 5, 2011

Processing the future

Around the European Future Technologies conference in Budapest, there has been a lot of talk of the FET flagship projects. There are six pilot projects, from which two will be selection in 2012/13 to get at least 10 years of funding, of up to 100 million Euros per year. These projects will be the Big Science of the future.

One of the pilot projects is called futurICT (or "futurist"). With several research hubs - the two largest in London and Zurich – the team claim they are going to accelerate knowledge and innovation, allowing better decision making in areas such as well planned cities, sustainability and policy making, by focusing on the key areas of ICT, complexity science and social science.

To me, the most fascinating part of this project is the social science aspects. It’s headed up by Rosaria Conte from the Institute of Cognitive Science and Technologies in Rome, and she says that the bottleneck in social science at the moment is the gap between theory and data; social scientists just don’t have enough data to test real theories in social science. As a result, they've relied on metaphors and hypothesis.

If that’s the case, then we’re now potentially at the turning point in the history of social science. Soon enough, real theories will be able to be modelled and evaluated. It's kind of scary too: can each of us be described and modelled, our behaviour predicted?

Your ego can take some credit in that at least Conte and her peers will require huge advances in data acquisition and in computing power ... but of course, that's what everyone here is counting on anyway. I’ll let the people involved in futurICT tell you the rest themselves:

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