Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Future of Services


The Director of the Future Planet Research Centre, David Hunter Tow, predicts that the current explosion of new services will trigger the biggest treasure hunt in the history of computing technology.
The Services Sector is currently in turmoil with thousands of startup companies cashing in on new opportunities to re-engineer traditional ways of doing business- and this is just the beginning.
Every process is currently being transformed into a new service- not just in traditional service sectors such as retail, media, education, healthcare, tourism and finance, but also in industry areas such as manufacturing- with made to order 3D printing techniques, medical processing- offering personalised DNA sequencing and diagnostics instantly on an iPhone chip, and inexpensive solar energy and water purification systems cheaply available for domestic use in developing countries.  

There’s not one established service process that’s not being seriously disrupted by smaller more agile independent players, leaving the lumbering giants that once dominated commerce in the 20th century stumbling blindly in their wake.

All major service sectors are currently being carved up, their key functions hived off and new innovations successfully introduced in competition with those of the original gatekeepers, continuing to guard their crumbling IP parapets, while new knowledge is generated by the terabyte.

What is catalysing this frenzy and where is it heading?

A number of convergent factors are involved in this 21st century phenomenon – breakthroughs in new technology- mobile computing, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and information analysis,  massive social change in the form of deregulation of knowledge generation and access spurred on by the social media and global Web; and an unstoppable surge in the creative potential of a new generation steeped since birth in the cyber revolution, but now cheaply available; all combined with the very low cost of market entry for innovative entrepreneurs.

Of course online retail and marketing started the ball rolling in the nineties and has never looked back. Traditional main street bricks and mortar retail has been fighting a ferocious rearguard action, but by and large it’s been a losing battle ever since. The smart retailers hedged their bets by combining new boutiques and online websites, but overall, new leaders in the revolution such as Amazon, eBay, Apple and Google as well as thousands of smaller specialists, just kept upping the ante with greater global choice, faster service delivery and deeper discounts.

Then came the new wave of targeted retail service apps nibbling away at the leaders- companies like Foursquare peddling Deals of the Day- but now over 130,000 Android and 300,000 Apple apps covering- self-checkout, barcode scanning, loyalty programs, coupon and discount offers, retail location discovery, best buys, augmented reality advertising, customer reviews, consumer preferences and recommendations and mobile platform payment functions- all making the online and store shopping experience easier and more exciting. And for developers- the social media to inexpensively promote them.

In the meantime the traditional Media and Advertising industries were hurting. Gone were the salad days of broadsheets generating the golden streams of classified advertising revenue from job, real estate and used car advertisements; paying for the packed newsrooms and inflated expense accounts in five star global hot spots.  

In their place one stop outsourced stories and editorials with duplicated online headlines.

Again a frenzy of online experimentation began. But pay walls had only limited success, even for the heavyweights such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Classified and banner advertising continued to haemorrhage, migrating to web sites at greatly reduced prices and the social and alternative media led by a myriad young independent operators, grabbing the best headlines and news stories via cheap phones.

As a result the print operators such as News Ltd are only pale shadows of their former selves and have quietly retreated to the more glamorous world of cable television and film. But this is only a temporary reprieve as the low budget independent film and documentary makers gain ground on YouTube and in Arthouse cinema seats, shooting with low cost video cameras,  while at the same time chasing the more interesting reality footage; all supported by the citizen journalists and freelance bloggers desperate for a voice in the brave new cyber world.

As a result of this revolution the power of traditional media services has seriously waned and is likely to have largely disappeared within a few decades, replaced by countless personalised web channels and DVD and gaming startups, controlled by myriad smaller, more energised groups and individuals.

At the same time the Advertising industry is in a monumental bind- caught in the headlight glare of change; trying to find the magic brand formula for clients by mixing and matching the traditional and burgeoning new media- but apart from reverting to Google and Facebook, not having a lot of success with either, unable to capitalise effectively on the thousands of creative local specialists and the cornucopia of apps.

Over time traditional advertising will therefore become less significant to major brands as it transitions to an infotainment format, with thousands of independent product sites and apps providing instant comparative advice to consumers without the retrospin of big business.

Education
But the big revolution in services- the game changer of the 21st century, will come from easy global access via mobile online learning to high quality inexpensive education. This, according to educators, will turn every mobile phone into a knowledge portal and return education to the golden age of sharing ideas among communities of scholars, releasing them from a boring classroom environment with second rate lecturers more interested in their next overseas conference schedule.
Interestingly the revolution is being led from the inside by some of the biggest and most hallowed institutions- Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Yale. Suddenly global tertiary level courseware and soon secondary level as well, is available at very low cost from these prestige US universities through massive online platforms such as Coursera; while third party reference sites across the Web such as Wikipedia, Google, Microsoft and Facebook plus a host of talented independent specialists will provide countless training services by integrating and coordinating domain related knowledge.
This is the next phase in the democratisation of the world’s storehouse of information, driven by the need to realise the potential of the vast under-educated populations of Africa, Asia and the Middle East that have missed out on the planet’s opportunities. It will allow anyone with a mobile phone or tablet to access the same level of knowledge regardless of location, income or the availability of local training resources. 
Over the coming decades therefore the services of learning and education will undergo a profound shift, from the traditional classroom/face to face method of knowledge transfer to a much more abstract model, where teaching will be largely separated from its current physical infrastructure, such as classrooms and campuses.

It will also be linked to the Cyber Revolution- transforming the world’s knowledge base into a vibrant multimedia forum- using the latest 3D, virtual reality and gaming technologies- all delivered by smart mobile and embedded multi-media kinetic devices linked to the Intelligent Web.

 
Healthcare
Now the medical and healthcare services sector is also ripe for revolution. Phone apps are increasingly available to act as remote monitors for home based medical and health support purposes- the remote diagnosis of life threatening conditions and algorithms to calculate correct drug dosages and interventions for acute illnesses such as diabetes, malaria  and HIV.  
This revolution has been driven to a large extent by the healthcare needs of half the planet’s population that still live in dire poverty, unable to afford traditional life-saving hospital support or medication.

These and many other diagnostic  and treatment services are now putting patients at the centre of the management of their own healthcare with the help of trained volunteers, bypassing the bottlenecks involved in the traditional delivery of medical services by scarce qualified practitioners.
Future services will also be based on the accessibility of whole-of-life eHealth records across both the developed and developing world, eventually allowing the creation of online global health records from pre-birth to death, providing personalised remote support services delivered on an iPhone or community personal computer. Within a decade, health records will include the sequencing of an individual’s genome as a vital diagnostic service at a cost of a few dollars.

A number of other technological breakthroughs will mark the expansion of new healthcare services within the next few decades including - stem cell therapies to repair human tissue and organs, reversing heart disease for example;  prevention of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases such as  breast cancer and Alzheimer’s;  sensory repair such as early retinal and corneal implants; prosthetics including neuron-controlled limbs; brain/ nervous system interfaces, overcoming spinal paralysis using brain signals; and interactive humanoid robots to provide human companionship and physical support.

All will be available as relatively inexpensive services once the enabling technologies have been approved. Why? Because if the major healthcare companies don’t provide them at  an affordable price, entrepreneurial groups will, as occurred with the generic drug revolution in developing countries when Big Pharma refused to drop their prices.

 
Finance/Banking
The Finance and Banking industry has been a sitting duck for radical change for a long time- getting bigger and more obese with minimal outside competition – seeking to control ever more functions in a frenzy of greed- from investment, transaction processing, payments, exotic specialist derivatives, consumer credit, foreign exchange, mortgage provision, money transfers, advice on mergers, trading and anything else that shows a hint of making easy money and inflating their balance sheets. 

There have been numerous exposures of the underlying level of corruption within the finance and banking industries, to the point of defrauding their own customers and incurring horrendous trading losses by rogue dealers through sloppy oversight, in the process threatening bankruptcy for themselves and their clients and culminating in the GFC.  But it didn’t deter them for long and despite some fresh regulations and a massive infusion of taxpayer dollars, their insatiable greed continued to explode.
But if government regulators have failed to reign them in - a number of agile competitors offering cheaper, safer and more convenient services, may do the job for them.

The major looming battle is between the traditional finance industry and the global technology giants such as Apple, Google and Paypal- using their skills at creating innovative software to provide Payment and Credit card services, using wireless apps that allow mobile phones to store loyalty and credit card information, make payments and transfer money. Technology-poor African countries such as Kenya have taken the lead in these services of convenience and already provide perfectly viable phone money transfer services via text, bypassing expensive banking services.
Now the bloated goliaths are fighting back with their own brand apps. Banks are also using contactless near field technology to convert smartphones into mobile credit and payment devices. But it may already be too late as the genie has escaped the bottle and the smart entrepreneurs realise the banking emperor has no clothes, except Wall-Mart hand me downs.

It is likely that banks in their present form will cease to exist within the decade, effectively disembowelled by smarter consumer and business service providers. They may become primarily back office transaction processors and routine mortgage providers, with a veneer of  deal making, offering a line of credit for smaller uncomplicated businesses. All other functions will become the province of highly skilled specialists.
And so the frenzy of creativity and service disruption will continue in all areas of commerce and industry, as the current generation of software engineers and innovators becomes acutely aware that the rules that propped up the old corporate structures are obsolete.

The old software guard that controlled the boundaries of commerce so tightly are also increasingly ripe for the picking because the original rules governing old sectors such as retail, media, manufacturing, banking, pharmaceuticals, photography, music, publishing etc, just don’t hold up anymore. They don’t reflect the changing social currents of the new era, stuck in the quicksand of the past. Therefore the software and systems houses that propped them up and contributed to their stranglehold, such as SAP, Oracle, IBM, HP, Yahoo, Cisco etc, are also irrelevant, weighed down by their own legacy technologies, now being systematically cannibalised by more agile and visionary players. 
Take any industry. Who buys the software that was developed for it in the 80’s or even 90’s? Very few, except the dinosaurs locked in by exorbitant long term maintenance agreements and they are now paying a very high price for their conformity- unable to adapt or switch systems before being swallowed by the next wave of innovation. Their present systems just don’t reflect the changing way of doing business or social norms that the new generation of consumers want and have come to expect.

The technology keeps shifting and each time it moves it exposes the soft underbelly of the existing services and providers. Those like IBM that have survived have had to radically remodel their businesses. In the case of IBM – from hardware to software to services and now jumping on the ‘smart planet’ mantra.
The next generation of providers- Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook along with thousands of smaller service developers have already moved in on these crumbling bastions.  But even this new order are in turn being held to account by a host of smaller creative startups. And no matter how often the established leaders of any systems generation try to reinforce their monopolies by swallowing the smaller more agile enterprises, they are constantly outflanked by the tide of new knowledge and innovation.

And so the dance goes on – faster and faster and the treasure trove of potentially lucrative services keeps growing.

 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Future of Cyberwars- War of the Worlds

The author provides an analysis of the striking similarities between the 19th century H G Wells narrative- War of the Worlds and the CyberWar scenarios now looming a hundred years later between nations on Earth.

The War of the Worlds - a science fiction novel written by H G Wells in 1895-97, tells of the invasion of Earth by an alien race of Martians. It is one of the earliest stories that forecasts a major conflict between humans and a species of technologically advanced aliens.

The storyline can be interpreted in a number of ways – but generally it provides a glimpse of a dystopian future in which forces of evil threaten to destroy human civilisation through the use of superior technology without regard to the planet’s inhabitants.

In terms of today’s cyber advances the storyline now seems rather na├»ve, but its influence over a hundred years ago was immense; combining the shock of new technology with rampant terrorism and the threat of annihilation. It spawned half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, comic book adaptations and a television series. But its main impact remains the terror that can be inflicted on a population by unknown forces outside human control.

Today humankind finds itself on the cusp of another War of the Worlds. But this time it’s far more terrifying and real. Instead of an alien species wielding weapons of mass destruction, the main protagonists are superpowers wielding equally destructive cyber weapons, with the forces of good and evil becoming increasingly blurred.  

Now with the leaked admission that the Obama administration authorised development and implementation of the Stuxnet virus in conjunction with Israel, and probably the subsequent development of a much more dangerous virus- Flame,  the War of Worlds scenario may be beginning all over again.

Stuxnet was designed to covertly sabotage the operation of Iran’s nuclear enrichment centrifuges- around a fifth of the total used for the separation of radioactive isotopes, slowing down the Iranian nuclear program. But the virus inadvertently leaked to the wider Internet allowing cyber security agencies to disembowel its modus operandi.

Flame is apparently a much more ambitious and dangerous worm, which has been stalking super sensitive information on the net for several years, primed to spy on and steal information from computers, initially across the Middle East.  In the process it performs extensive data mining- copying, transmitting and deleting files for espionage purposes at will. The code’s malicious actions went undetected by 43 antivirus programs before finally being outed.

This massive computer worm- around 20Mb of code, has been designed more as a complete malware ecosystem than a single virus, even rumoured to contain its own App store which can be customised and mutated to attack different applications and achieve different goals.

Most significantly Flame appears to be part of a continuing State sponsored hit campaign against Iran and other perceived enemies of the free world, using a different team of programmers and platform from Stuxnet, but commissioned by the same covert agency- likely the NSA in the US, It shares several hallmark features of its predecessors- Stuxnet and Duqu and was probably  tested at Dimona – the HQ of Israel’s atomic weapons development site.

Like Duqu , Flame is primarily a reconnaissance weapon, able to copy screen images , websites, emails and network traffic and according to the Russian based Kaspersky Security Lab currently dissecting the virus, it has infected around 1000 computers. Iran confirmed that computers belonging to several high ranking officials appear to have also been penetrated by Flame.

One of its best tricks was to initiate a so-called Collision attack on the Microsoft Terminal Services encryption algorithm. This allows it to spoof the Microsoft Digital Certificate signing service by simulating a legitimate security update from Microsoft, using a cheat code to install entire copies of malicious code automatically.

But Flame’s real significance lies not just in its potential to perform spy missions and cripple specialised target machines such as centrifuges, but its capacity to destroy national infrastructure and engineering/manufacturing systems in general. This is what differentiates it from a less potent weapon of espionage and escalates it to an all-out agent of war. Its sheer breadth of functionality sets it apart.

Flame is therefore a precursor of the next-gen virtual machines of destruction in a world which is already primed for conflict!

Whoever is controlling Flame has now ordered it to self-destruct and erase all traces of its existence to avoid risk of its escape into cyberspace like Stuxnet, as well as prevent duplication of its code by outsiders. 

According to experts, a self-immolation or "suicide" module can locates every Flame file on disk, removing it and then overwriting the disk with random characters to prevent anyone obtaining information about the original infection.

But too late. It is already in the hands of numerous security experts and probably criminal and Black Hat groups as well. So it is only a matter of time before a new improved mutant version of Flame appears.

And this process of enhancement will continue with ever-escalating frequency.

Pandora’s cyber box has now been prized open, with the Obama administration being accused of human rights failures on two fronts. First the use of drones to arbitrarily assassinate state enemies and now its use of covert cyber actions to disable enemy infrastructure.

This failure of US moral standing has immense consequences for the world as a whole.

Now all bets are off and an era of global Cyberwars has been unleashed – unstoppable even if wiser heads realise the immensity of the risk it presents to future world peace and  stability.

The strategists at the Pentagon and NSA have broken a cardinal rule.

They have assumed that information and knowledge can be contained and controlled in the same way as warships, jet fighters and high tech weaponry. But information is not like guns. It inevitably leaks- particularly in the new digital age, regardless of how many Top Secret stamps and digital certificates are placed on it.  Any covert virus no matter how well camouflaged will inevitably reveal itself as it spreads via the Internet and the Planet’s networks, acting as a template for future incursions .

Criminal cartels, terrorist groups and rogue states- in fact any group that can harness the talents of gifted software specialists can now play with the same toys as the big boys. Size doesn’t matter anymore!!

This is simple physics and is why the US’s obsessive paranoia relating to the Bradley Manning and Wikileaks prosecutions is also doomed to rebound in the longer term. If anyone is to blame for massive leaks such as CableGate, it’s the US government and its incredibly sloppy information containment and access protocols; allowing a low level administrative clerk access to data which supposedly is inimical to national security- able to be routinely copied to a lady Gaga CD.

Now it’s happened all over again with the release of the Stuxnet and Flame viruses.

But apart from the blatant hypocrisy and buck passing involved in this otherwise theatre of the absurd, the information would have eventually leaked regardless.  And the argument that it is in the national interest for citizens not to know how their governments are spoofing the other side- aka diplomacy- is also a remnant of medieval times.

With the admission that the use of cyber technology against a State enemy was approved from the President’s Office down, blow-back has begun. Every nation, friendly or otherwise will now develop a similar capability and use it if necessary for its own strategic purposes.

This is not an overly difficult or expensive exercise. Every country such as- Israel, Estonia, Nigeria, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Venezuela and Somalia already has access to the same equally creative and intelligent minds as the US and often more so. Any State or organisation for that matter can establish a group of twenty or so elite software engineers and replicate Flame or a more potent version of it in the same timeframe. In the recent global CyberOlympics the Netherlands came first, while in the Cyber Defence University challenge 2011, Russian and Chinese teams from St Petersburg and Zhejianc trounced the elite US colleges. 

The roadmap to full blown Cyberwars is now clear to see.

Cybercrime is the precursor of Cyberwar. It is a relatively new phenomenon but because of its recent scale and game-changing implications for both government and industry it has rapidly become the dominant risk theme of the 21st century.

The opportunity for cyber attacks grows daily as corporations and governments continue to amass information about individuals in complex networks across the Web and at the same time new generations of cyber activists, some motivated purely by money and others by the desire to expose and destabilise corporations and governments, continue to hack into organisational secrets.

In a recent Norton Cybercrime Report, it was reported that breaches of various types claimed 431 million adult victims last year, with 73% of adults in the US alone incurring estimated financial losses of $US140 billion. As a criminal activity, cyber incursion is now almost as lucrative as the illegal drug trade. The total cost last year, including lost productivity and direct cash losses resulting from cyber intrusions associated with viruses, malware and identity theft is estimated at $US 388 billion.

The security firm McAfee also in a recent report, listed a range of cybercrime technologies deployed including- denial of service attacks, malware, spam, phishing, social site engineering, mobile phone viruses, botnets and phone sms Trojan messages. Also more recently, hacking drones- small remote controlled unmanned aerial vehicles- UAVs, which can automatically detect and compromise wireless networks, by locating a weak spot in a corporate internet connection, have been used. To make matters worse, the first flaws in the advanced encryption standard used for Internet banking and financial transactions as well as Government secure transmission, have been discovered.

But most worrying, security experts from McAfee have confirmed the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving infiltration of the networks of 72 organisations around the world including- the UN, the governments of the US, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Vietnam and Canada, ASEAN, the International Olympic committee and an array of companies from defence contractors to high-tech enterprises including Google- with most of the victims unaware until recently of the breaches.

This represents a massive loss of economic advantage- possibly the biggest transfer of IP wealth in history. Currently every company in every industry of significant size, with valuable IP, contracts or trade secrets is potentially under attack and this will inevitably extend to smaller organisations such as strategic hitech start-ups in the future. At the national level it involves exposure of sensitive state secrets including policy intentions and decisions covering all levels and functions of Government- trade, defence and industry policy.

The stakes are huge; a challenge to economies and global markets from both an enterprise and State perspective. This is an intolerable situation. But because it has exploded at such speed, the response to date has largely been fragmented and ineffective.

But an even more ominous threat has now emerged- the Mafia State. Mafia states include criminal groupings such as the Russian, Bulgarian and Eurasian cartels, now using cyber technology, to achieve global reach. Their mission is not just to hack credit cards and phish identities, but to infiltrate Governments at the highest level- the networks of power including senior politicians and bureaucrats, security and police department heads and major corporate executives.

Mafia dominated States include- Russia, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Kosovo, the Ukraine, Afghanistan and Guinea.  Because of the global economic crisis they have been able to acquire valuable companies and assets at bargain prices and because of record unemployment levels have been able to hire experts in every field relevant to their operations- lawyers, accountants and now software engineers. This is about much more than pillaging credit cards and trade data or bringing down unpopular sites. It’s about creating a criminal ecosystem that challenges democracy.

On a global scale, therefore cybercrime is already morphing into full blown Cyberwar!

The world's superpowers have already begun to introduce new cyber-policies to desperately protect their intellectual property, infrastructure and financial assets, as well control the flow of information within their populations. Despite their tenuous cooperation to eliminate the threat of cyber intrusion, each is also covertly preparing for the new era of Cyber Espionage.

The US is working feverishly on Plan X devised by the Defence Advanced Research Agency - turning to the private sector, universities and even computer game companies as part of a grand effort to fast track its cyber warfare capabilities. Plan X’s goal is to dominate the new digital playing field, just as it has in the past- the traditional physical battlefield; wishful thinking at best and at worst living in a dangerous delusional bubble.

The earlier US Cyber Manifesto has also been stymied. This policy aimed at supporting open access to the Internet while at the same time pursuing a policy of aggressive physical deterrence against any foreign powers such as China and Iran or organisations like WikiLeaks, which attempt to penetrate US computer systems. But even this policy is meeting resistance from vested interests on issues of regulatory control and government surveillance of business system security.

The European Convention on Cybercrime is currently bogged down because EU governments are reluctant to share sovereign IT information with other powers, even if friendly. But this may change in the future as the pressure on the Eurozone to become a United States of Europe intensifies.

China on the other hand is going for the jugular, establishing The State Internet Information Office with the express purpose of regulating and controlling its vast internet population. It has even considered building an alternative Internet to sidestep the US controlled ICAAN if a plan for an alternative UN-ITU managed forum cannot be agreed. Other dictatorial regimes across the world, from Syria to Saudi Arabia have also introduced extreme punitive measures to monitor and control access to the Web by dissidents, particularly now with democratic unrest sweeping the world, catalysed by the Arab Spring.

But the US, with the release of Stuxnet and Flame have taken this War of the Worlds to another level. They have attacked the infrastructure of an enemy nation- the very heart and soul of its social and technological integrity. In doing so they have unleashed a hydra-headed cyber-monster which could destroy the fabric of society and humanity with it.

Cybercrime  and Cyberwars go hand in hand. One is just the flip side of the other. Breaking into confidential files – whether war plans or credit cards is espionage combined with fraud, while breaking into and disabling a nation’s industrial and infrastructure assets is an act of war.

From now on Cyberspace will be the new battleground and each group will be racing, not to cooperate, but to seize the opportunity and control the process for their own ends. For many Governments, businesses and criminal groups the glittering prize of domination will be too hard to resist.

The world had turned upside down in the blink of an eye.

All parties now understand that the nature of conflict and balance of world power is shifting with lightning speed, obsoleting overnight the nature of traditional war and economic dominance in a globalised cyber-world. Future conflicts will not be about destroying an enemy armed with billion dollar hi-tech armaments such as tanks, jets and warships, but will be primarily played out on a digital chessboard in future cyberspace.

Oversize superpower military budgets are no longer necessary or prudent when an equally lethal attack can be waged with virtual weapons at a tiny fraction of the cost. 

What value a sophisticated weapons system if it can be disabled by an elite group of cyber hackers with a Stuxnet or Flame type virus?

What value armies of highly trained soldiers if their command and control centres can be disabled with a few keyboard strokes and a swarm of smart software agents?

What value the trillions of dollars spent on containing Al-Qaeda if the economic and logistical systems supporting the attack can be thrown into disarray by a powerful artificial intelligence algorithm?

But the military establishments of the major powers are still coming to terms with the mind-blowing ramifications of Cyberwar. Not only will their weapons soon be obsolete but they will be too.

And as in the War of The Worlds, this can include control of robotic devices such as today’s drones as well as Satellite systems- not just used for surveillance, but for tracking the world’s ecosystems and helping preserve the planet. But today’s smart sensory devices are also coming in micro packages- smart satellites the size of milk cartons that can be launched by groups such as the White Hats. UAV swarms and mini drones, such as currently being manufactured by Venezuela for Iran, that can carry lethal payloads, not in the form of bombs, but chemical agents.

With the new Internet protocol Ipv6 about to be launched, with the capacity to link the Internet to any electronically embedded physical artefact, such micro devices can be controlled and disabled exactly as the Iranian centrifuges.

Any physical object or service that can be linked to sensors and a wireless antenna including- manufacturing and production machinery, vehicle and transport networks, communication hubs, security systems, medical devices, electricity grids, bridges and roads, as well as billions of consumer and industrial devices, have now been drawn into this digital vortex. 

These scenarios are rapidly becoming the stuff of nightmares - and why? Because the US Administration, the Pentagon and its acolytes, couldn’t resist displaying their Alpha prowess- taking the morally low road to retribution, when negotiations faltered; using the same flawed self-serving logic that allowed a million civilians to be incinerated at Hiroshima.

Dominance in tomorrow’s world is now about nimble minds, artificial intelligence and super smart algorithms. Any country on the planet will be able to afford to train an endless stream of talented young agile minds to code complex cyber warfare algorithms, especially when the latest efforts by the major powers, such as Stuxnet and Flame and the dozens of other worms and malware are already available as templates on the black market.

Anything that a superpower such as the US or China throws at this problem in the future will rebound on them the next day or the next hour.

And recruiting the best young hackers and software engineers and stashing them in a modern day Bletchley Park like the code breakers working on the Nazi Enigma machine, isn’t going to work either. The competitive advantage of MIT, Harvard or University of Pennsylvania trained software engineers is about to evaporate as the STEM – Science Technology Engineering and Maths faculties of these elite educational establishments begin to churn out free courseware,  enrolling hundreds of thousands of eager students free of charge online around the world.

Under the new mantra of free education, the next generation will be able to study courses in software engineering, artificial intelligence and Web science at the same rigorous level as their fee paying contemporaries from these world class institutions. With the venture capital already provided for massive online startups such as Coursera and Udacity, courses are being designed by the leading US professors and specialists in these domains, eventually creating a base pool of millions from which to draw the best coders from any country.

This is an immensely good thing, allowing poorer nations to bootstrap to the same educational and technical levels as the developed world in a very short time; providing essential skills for tomorrow’s society and increasing global productivity and innovation in a time of desperate need.  

But it’s a nightmare when it coincides with an Alpha superpower’s naked ambition to dominate tomorrow’s Cyber killing fields. 

But for the major protagonists of the neo War of the Worlds, the main goal is to control the ultimate prize of civilisation –the Internet/Web- humanity’s knowledge hub. Alarm bell are already ringing in the US Congress where desperate warnings are being issued of the chaos that will occur if control is ceded via the International Telecommunications Union-ITU, to the 160 nations of the UN that currently have no say in managing a system that increasingly controls their destiny. This is the US displaying its most arrogant behaviour – arguing in autocratic terms that it’s far better to have a wise benevolent dictator superpower than a ragbag democracy which includes India, China, Europe and Africa to oversee such an essential asset.  

So the race is on to co-opt the most advanced cyber technology to gain a global edge. Present day cybercrime technologies however will appear largely primitive within the next few years. The emphasis will shift to the application of much more sophisticated Cyberagent software technology.

The first generation of software agents appeared in the nineties and was used to trawl the Web, applying basic search procedures to locate information resources such as online shopping or travel sites and locating the best prices.

The second generation emerged around five years later. These programs were smarter, incorporating artificial intelligence that enabled them to make decisions more autonomously to meet their operational goals. They were deployed mainly in simulations of interactive population and component behaviour in a variety of environments- shopping malls, supply chains as well as disaster and conflict areas. In addition, they possessed superior negotiation and decision logic skills, using Game theory and semantic inferencing techniques.

But the third generation agents will be something else again. These will be based on complementary combinations of advanced AI techniques such as- ‘evolutionary algorithms’, that allow them to constantly improve their skills; 'neural networks' for superior pattern recognition and learning; ‘bayesian logic’ for powerful inferencing capabililty; ‘ant foraging' to help find the most efficient paths through complex network environments and ‘swarm' technology, allowing individual agent intelligence to be amplified by working cooperatively in large groups.

They will increasingly also be capable of tapping into the enormous computational intelligence of the Web, including the public databases of mathematical and scientific algorithms, eventually allowing their intelligence to be amplified by a factor of a hundredfold over previous agent capabilities.

Such agent swarms will also be equipped behaviourally and cognitively to focus on their missions with laser or Zen-like concentration, to the exclusion of everything else, until they have chased down their quarry; whether corporate strategic plans, government covert secrets or nuclear missile blueprints.

This Uber-level of intelligence will transform Agent swarms into formidable cyber strike forces, which could operate under deep cover or in sleeper mode, transforming into harmless chunks of code until a cell and attack is activated and can also replicate rapidly if additional forces are required.

Although this might sound like science fiction, the AI techniques involved, such as evolutionary algorithms, neural networks and swarm architectures have been in common use in business and industry for over ten years. The ability to harness them in cyber strike force mode is only a matter of time.

But all parties are now beginning to understand that the nature of conflict and the balance of world power is shifting with lightning speed, obsoleting overnight the nature of war and traditional economic dominance in a globalised cyber-world. As outlined, future conflicts will not be about destroying an enemy armed with billion dollar hi-tech armaments but will be played out largely in future cyberspace.

But the option of a full blown Cyberwar eventuating has just received an enormous boost from the latest risk assessment of global warming.  Now we are informed, prior to the next global warming conference in Rio +20, that the earth is very close to a tipping point, with a maximum of ten years to reset the parameters of carbon consumption and overuse of the planet’s finite natural resources. Otherwise Armageddon is irreversible. This will dominate major policy discussions in all political forums from now on.

Cyberwars are far more likely to flourish in chaotic times of critical food and water shortages, with countries desperate to secure access to critical resources. That time is not far off, with estimates of major food shortages and rising prices as early as 2013, with a follow-on spike in global conflict highly likely.  

The threat of all out Cyberwar is now an urgent issue that transcends lines between individual enterprises or governments. Unless a global cyber security framework, binding both the private and public sectors can be engineered, a world of disorder will rapidly emerge - a turbulent world, where evolutionary change in shorter and shorter timeframes will cease to be adaptive and become ultimately destructive.

The second War of The Worlds will emerge with no happy ending.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Future of Cars

According to David Hunter Tow, Director of The Future Planet Research Centre, by 2015 most cars will be powered by electricity with advanced lightweight lithium batteries capable of being charged rapidly at power outlets as well as by hydrogen cells. The new electric vehicle infrastructure enabling simple recharging and replacement of batteries and liquid hydrogen storage will be well advanced in major cities.

Computer systems will increasingly control all vehicle functions as standard- including those already in use for navigation, entertainment, collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, anti-collision radar, safety crash protection, stability and automatic parking.

By 2020 in most larger cities, small efficient electric cars including single and dual passenger variations will be available for flexible and inexpensive hire for local transport needs via smart phone managed pickup pools, servicing urban neighbourhoods (Ref Future of Cities).

The major advance however will be in the form of fully automated cars capable of navigating autonomously, guided by sensor/ processor embedded smart roads and transit corridors; obeying traffic laws and avoiding collisions with other objects and vehicles. They will also be capable of interpreting traffic forecasts and communicating via local networks with other vehicles to reduce road congestion. In addition they will be responsive to passenger requirements, linked via the wireless Web to their activity profiles- appointment schedules, regular destinations such as schools, child minding centres and leisure centres etc.

The car of 2020 will also be capable of providing and monitoring in-vehicle entertainment and communication, emergency assistance, scheduling and payment services for power charging, parking, security etc. Automated transit control will facilitate traffic streaming and congestion management, with specialised car, bus and cycle transit lanes in operation throughout most urban areas.

By 2030 individual cars will have transformed into autonomous transport pods or capsules for individual passenger urban use. Pods will link seamlessly to other minimum carbon-emission forms of transport for local neighbourhood and inter-urban movement- light metro rail, electric cycles, scooters and bicycles. Pod streaming infrastructure will link to smart transport hubs, providing automated fast electric urban and intercity pod/light rail/bus services.

By 2040 the car as we know it today will cease to exist in the developed world’s urban areas. In its place will be multipurpose intelligent transit pods- systems seamlessly linked and customised to individual and community needs. Most ground-based vehicles except for bicycles will be totally autonomous and humans will become passengers only. All instructions managing human and urban infrastructure interaction such as pick-up/destination location and schedule requirements will be relayed by mobile links and automatically accessed by the pod system via the Intelligent Web 4.0.(Ref Future Web)

By 2050 the first vehicles to take advantage of 3D transport will emerge. Multilevel transit systems will be suspended above the transport routes of cities with lower levels restricted to bicycles, scooters and walking. All levels will link with major transport hubs and metro trains for super-fast autonomous intercity and new low energy system air travel. All service and logistical decisions will be managed by adaptive algorithms via dedicated secure virtual networks of the Intelligent Web.

Humans and their transport infrastructure will be seamlessly and permanently networked.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Future Civilisation- Utopia or Dystopia

The author suggests that human civilisation is now poised between a Dystopian and Utopian future, but believes the outcome is surprisingly predictable- and it’s all in the physics. The latest climate numbers have been crunched and they look very bad for life and humans. According to the report delivered by scientists at the Planet under Pressure Conference, leading up to the critical Rio+20 Climate Global Summit in June, global warming is set to rise by 5 degrees centigrade by the end of the century, well past the 2 degree safety net which is now likely to be breached as early as 2030. If drastic physical and social reengineering is not implemented, this will ensure the increasing frequency and violence of environmental impacts due to rising temperatures is unstoppable; triggering huge floods, storm surges, droughts, blizzards and tornados as well as the accelerated melting of the polar ice sheets and tundras, acidification of the oceans and loss of biodiversity.

These aren’t abstract outcomes. The ripple-on effects have already resulted in untold misery for millions every year through starvation, loss of livelihood and disease, while at the same time continuing to degrade the physical and social infrastructure of our fragile human civilisation.
And this will be just the beginning, as the planet begins its trajectory towards an ultimate Venusian unliveable climate.

To compound the problem, according to leading environmental think tanks such as Global Footprint Network, the economy is now operating in excess of the planet’s natural sustainable limits, with humans absorbing resources at around 150% of the planet’s capacity. With shortages already apparent in most key natural resource areas- food, agricultural land, fresh water, unpolluted air and oceans and strategic minerals etc, fossil fuel usage for industry, transport and heating is accelerating, faster than viable renewable energy alternatives can be generated.

And inevitably such critical resource shortfalls will be followed by conflict and chaos in those regions worst affected, resulting in a breakdown of society’s norms. From a pristine planet 20,000 years ago- to this burnt out shell- highly advanced technologically, but now running on empty.

Current corporate and economic systems are seriously compounding the problem, based on a never-ending growth cycle driven by market forces modelled by over-simplistic equilibrium supply/demand parameters, which grossly underestimate and distort the complexities of the real world.

Utopia
But on the other side of the ledger, a fabulous future awaits humanity. The next generation will be the recipients of super materials such as graphene, replacing metals in everything from consumer electronics to car bodies; quantum computing and communication technologies- providing unlimited computational intelligence and bandwidth capacity; clean energy in the form of smarter renewables as well as fusion power; remedies for most of today’s diseases using stem cells and genetic engineering; new eco-friendly ways of managing our cities and urban environments; and above all the Web 4.0, capable of autonomously applying artificial intelligence to predict and manage the future as a partner.

All these advances promise to create life-sustaining systems that will minimise waste and the drive for endless consumption. And on the social side there may be an end to conflict and a level playing field offering education and democracy for all peoples.
But which future reality will win out- Utopia or Dystopia? The ravages of drought and conflict or the Pandora’s box of untold wealth and peaceful cooperation.

The answer is surprisingly predictable and it’s all in the physics.

If we can generate the information and knowledge needed to rejuvenate the planet in the form of new sustainable technologies and institutional reforms, we can reverse the slide towards the increasing entropy of decay and destruction- plunging us towards an unstoppable Dystopia. But if we can’t hold the line, and are unable to claw back some leverage against the impact of global warming, then we may never be able to squeeze through this bottleneck and enter a golden age of Utopia.

If humanity had another century to make the transition- to get its house in order and adopt a sustainable lifestyle, we would have been on a difficult but doable road to redemption. Nuclear fusion would have kicked in in the latter part of the century along with mega-solar and wind energy baseline projects and major sources of pollution and inefficiency would have been largely eliminated. The highly skewed distribution of wealth would also have been declared untenable and a mindset that respected the natural assets of the planet would have replaced the eternal growth fantasy of yesterday’s discredited economics.

The future of democracy would also have been assured as the last of the dictators and fascist regimes were finally brought to justice. China and the US may even have learned to live in harmony, reconciling their ideological differences in the interests of the common good and their own survival in the face of popular uprisings and the impossible burden of escalating costs of warfare, with the potential to implode their economies as Russia discovered late last century.

But unfortunately the Universe doesn’t work on the basis of happy endings and is impervious to our pleadings. And now Armageddon is almost upon us. We have likely been too slow, too complacent, and too hubristic to make the necessary adaptations in time. Humans after all have always been in control of their own destiny and if there are any shortcomings the technocrats will fix them as they have always done and business will resume as usual.
But now our relationship with lifeboat Earth has turned sour. The ferocity and unpredictability of its global reach whether generated by climate or social change is becoming increasingly obvious- even to the most diehard climate skeptic.

With the hottest temperatures in our history over the last decade disrupting global weather patterns, massive floods and droughts are already upon us, shredding our cosy lifestyles and productivity. We are rapidly approaching the point where there is no time, money or energy to both repair the groaning infrastructure and at the same time improve those technologies and institutions that could create a bulwark against the next onslaught, guaranteeing our salvation.

Just ask the US – the wealthiest country on the planet. Now mired in $15 trillion debt, it is scarcely able to make running repairs to its third world infrastructure,such as its tens of thousands of failing bridges, before being king hit by the next round of climate onslaught. The loss of momentum towards a sustainable society in the US is not hypothetical. It is having an immediate devastating effect on public health, safety and education. Communities can scarcely keep their roads and airports open and provide jobs for their populations let alone inject the trillions of dollars needed to guarantee quality of life for their children and upgrade to the next level of technological fix.

Federal funding is still available for a dwindling percentage of R&;D, but it is drastically declining with ongoing cutbacks, while private industry alone will never invest in a socially optimal level of research, lowering economic growth and innovation. The last remaining assets of this once bountiful empire- its farmlands, forests and wetlands are being stripped bare and auctioned off to big oil for their shale gas and tar sands potential. The short term corporate profits, will be reinvested in oil with few jobs, while critical renewable research gets sidelined and talented scientists compete for scarce societal resources.

And if it’s tough for the US, it’s impossible for the developing world, just starting their run towards a better life and prosperity for their children. And even the middle powers including the majority of EU nations are sinking to third world levels, struggling with the highest debt and unemployment levels in their history, including the great depression.
In the past though it generally worked out all okay in the end. We just mortgaged more of our earth’s precious resources to generate more money and energy to pay the bills and turn entropy into useful information to power our future.

Now for the first time the world is running on empty. No more easy bounty and no more easy money solutions. An increasing proportion of our precious energy and information will from now on be focussed on fighting a rear guard action just to survive against an unstoppable foe. A smaller and smaller proportion will be left over to develop the new technologies needed to safeguard our future.
But unfortunately it appears not near enough to get ahead of the game.

It may be a slow and incredibly painful process as we are forced to watch the steady disintegration of our hard won ancestral civilisation- its knowledge, culture and institutions. The temporal threshold marking the likelihood of such a broken symmetry and decline towards the Venusian endgame has now been set by the best science at just one decade away- not in our grandchildren’s lifetime but in ours.

But there’s almost zero chance that we’ll make it. Because old habits are too deeply ingrained and we are addicted as president Obama has said to the fast food of fossil fuels- the traditional easy and obvious way out of our problems as well as the corporate mindset that worships at the altar of growth and greed. But unfortunately the US solution of extending the life of fossil fuels by digging up tar sands will only magnify the problem.

The physics is beginning to point ominously towards an increase in entropy which will outpace our ability to slow or stop it by injecting more information into the system, with our remaining intellectual assets focussed solely on staving off the increasingly ferocious aspects of its advance.

It’s not a hard equation to compute. The balance between the rate of exponentially increasing entropy or decay delivered by global warming, reducing our planet’s capacity to sustain human life and the rate at which we as information generators can inject the essential knowledge needed to keep us alive. This balance is already seriously out of synch, but most individuals choose not to or unable to see it. It’s a little like a householder continuing to meticulously polish the car and trim the lawn while in the middle of a war zone.

And now the Red Queen is almost exhausted. No matter how fast she runs she can only just maintain the status quo. No matter how much energy she uses, the increase in entropy driven by accelerating climate change is set to outrun her.

This is a fight for survival by possibly the only remaining advanced life-form in the Universe, set in an existential nightmare scenario. The question has been asked many times- why no other advanced civilisations have made their presence known despite evidence of billions of potential earth like planets capable of supporting life in our galaxy?

Perhaps all advanced civilisations are likely to be afflicted by the same disease at a critical point in their evolution- just at the moment Utopia seems to be within their grasp. It’s been suggested by eminent cosmologists such as Max Tegmark that there has always been an apocalyptic event which stopped them in their tracks just when they appeared to be emerging as masters of the universe. The Holocene is the sixth mega catastrophic event in our planet’s history and possibly the one that delivers the knockout punch to humans not reacting fast enough to the imbalance in their information/entropy ledger account.

More sophisticated models may help us understand the process better and even slow it down, but unfortunately even the best models may be too late to stop the predictions coming true.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Future of Forecasting- The FuturICT Project

David Hunter Tow, Director of The Future Planet Research Centre, suggests that the major value of the proposed European flagship FuturICT project lay not just in its capacity as a global Simulator and Forecasting tool, but as a stepping stone to a new class of prediction models capable of linking with the future Intelligent Web.

FuturICT is the project the world has to eventually have and its proposed timing was impeccable.
The planet and its population is in dire straits, with the latest IPCC draft report predicting ongoing temperature rises, triggering increasing frequency of more extreme climate events- droughts, floods hurricanes etc, into the foreseeable future.

Such physical events will have numerous disruptive impacts on all ecosystems and societies and in order to survive we will have to get much smarter at forecasting the effects of such outcomes and implementing adaptive survival strategies.

Planning for our future has always been an intrinsic part of human nature at the personal, community, state and more recently global level. And we’ve had some outstanding successes, such as forecasting the weather, technological progress, energy futures and even sometimes stock markets- although these have tended to be more problematic.
But despite a range of mathematical improvements in our foresight and modelling methods developed in tandem with a broader understanding of scientific and social principles, our capacity to forecast has been sadly lacking when outcomes don’t follow obvious trends and predictable scenarios or when the signals of emerging change are faint.
These results are usually called Black Swan events- that seem to come out of nowhere. But they can also be immensely disruptive and we need to get a much better fix on them to ensure our survival. In recent times these elusive events have included the GFC, Occupy Wall Street movement, Arab Spring, Fukushima meltdown and Eurozone collapse – all predictable in hindsight but not so easy with foresight.

Now with the survival of our society on a knife edge, civilisation needs tools that are a lot more robust and models that can deliver much more dependable outcomes.
Enter the FuturICT model.
It represented the next phase in the evolution of models powerful enough to not just deliver probable predictions but accurately prioritise the resources needed to help us survive the onslaught of massive change.
FuturICT was a prototype of the next generation forecasting tool. It is massive – on a different scale to previous models and this is part of the problem.
But the main difference is that it was a project that had to deliver. No more luxury of extended research timelines; no more egos on parade at glamorous six star conference locations; no more addressing only a narrow elite of academic peers, while throwing a few crumbs to the social media. This was crunch time for FuturICT and for society.

Whatever the world’s current knowledge base – and it’s massive, covering advanced mathematical and AI techniques; new societal, physics, materials, engineering and computational sciences; a better understanding of emerging and emergent sciences such as network, complexity, evolutionary and social theory - all based on exploding data sets and increasingly complex algorithms- it now has to be marshalled, corralled and delivered, based on its initial promise.

And FuturICT was  the vehicle chosen to do it- a major advance in the science of modelling the future at a cost of a billion euros over ten years; harnessing the best scientific minds from hundreds of research institutions across Europe; and that was just the beginning.
Society was now asking for the payoff from its massive investment- billions and even trillions of euros - not just in the FuturICT project, but from research funding of multiple arcane disciplines over the last twenty years.

And make no mistake – it’s not the universities and research councils that have provided this largesse– it’s the humble taxpayer. And now the average citizen wants to know how their money can be applied to save their children’s future. There’s no ifs and buts here – they expect a pay-off now, in their time of desperate need.
Numerous PR releases have flooded both the old and new media already about this futuristic endeavour. In essence it will involve developing The FutureICT Knowledge Accelerator and Crisis-Relief System including-
Crisis Observatories- scanning for emerging problems;
Planetary nervous System- aggregating data streams from sensor systems- monitoring the pulse of civilisation around the globe;
The Living Earth Simulator- the heart and soul of the system; modelling the planet’s social, physical, biological and environmental phenomena- searching for insights into its future.
These components will apply state of the art techniques to mine Big Data using numerous mathematical, statistical, AI and logical inference techniques to discover patterns of significant interest.

But a lot of this is uncharted territory. This a giant leap from models aimed at solving specific problems with hundreds or thousands of variables, such as next week’s weather, transport flows or even complex ecosystem interactions, to one that can be applied to a huge range of environmental and societal problems, encompassing tens of thousands if not millions of interweaving information channels, parameters and variables.
But modelling at this unprecedented level of real world complexity is just the beginning. Managing the thousands of data streams and the research outputs from hundreds of institutions is the really difficult part. It won’t be a neat jigsaw - but a constantly dynamic multi-dimensional network of knowledge links, feedback loops, algorithmic contortions and exponentially exploding potentials.

For a start, the constraints on the model’s variables will have to be severe if it is to be managed at all. At least 95% will have to be pruned or drastically culled and the techniques to do this at the correct prioritisation levels have barely begun to be explored let alone formalised for a model of this scale.

The Centre’s own research suggests that evolutionary, network, complexity and decision theory will play key roles, but the challenges are myriad including-
The need to refine and integrate into the model a rigorous theory of social psychology. This vital field is still in its infancy.
The challenge of developing a radical new economic model after the disaster of the GFC. This appears to have been largely swept under the carpet by most economists as too hard, substituting another set of regulatory controls instead.
The challenge of smoothly combining the multiple disparate models of the system; managing the interdependent interfaces of feedback loops and input-outputs of an extremely complex and non-deterministic nature.
The problem of updating data inputs and algorithms in real or future time- extracting and extrapolating good models from past data alone is not enough and in fact could be disastrously misleading.
The core problem of using old mathematics in today’s 21st century models. Entirely new approaches may be required, such as replacing partial differential equations with a cellular automata approach as Steven Wolfram has argued. Also using coarse-grain rather than fine grain forecasting to escape the problem of infinite regress.
And then there’s the human element. Each group of researchers will be lobbying to maximise the application of their special insights and expertise to gain maximum kudos for themselves and their institutions. This is human nature, but if allowed to proliferate outside a disciplined framework could rapidly spiral out of control.
The data management and reporting system will also have to use a variety of standard tools to rigorously link results from multiple sources, particularly as funding will rely on the quality and transparency of the overall program- not individual or institutional progress.
Then there’s the next phase- providing advice to policy makers based on the project’s outcomes. As a critical potential EU Flagship project there was a lot riding on the verification of results in the public domain- particularly in the Eurozone’s cash strapped times.
At the same time integrating FuturICT with the other myriad models which will be working full throttle over the next ten years from competing and cooperating projects, particularly in the US and Asia. No-one will expect FuturICT to be operating as an island isolated in a sea of scientific progress.
And finally, integrating it with the full power of the Intelligent Web-Mark 4.0- because this will be the inevitable outcome.
Evolution towards a full Web-Human partnership will be the major paradigm shift of the 21st century, as policy makers and scientists alike find the causal relationships far too complex to comprehend.
The process of scientific research is expected to change more fundamentally over the next thirty years than in the previous three hundred years, towards an alternate global commons approach- a decentralised open marketplace of ideas, driven by a combination of the Web’s and human computational intelligence.
The epoch during which individual humans are able to conceptualise or understand increasingly complex phenomena is coming to an end. There will be just too many interacting variables for the human brain to get an intuitive understanding of the possible permutations and interactions.

With Big Data now a fact of life in all disciplines, combined with evolutionary discovery programs such as Eureqa, 95% of the traditional science will be handled autonomously by the Web.
Eureqa is already being applied as an ideal tool for disentangling and optimising systems that are too complicated or time consuming to analyse by traditional methods; for example aircraft wing design, network topology, financial forecasting and particle physics simulations.
But its significance goes well beyond this. It is being applied to discover new theorems increasingly beyond the cognitive capability of its human counterparts- beyond the limits of human knowledge.
Eureqa type software therefore could and will be applied in the future within all complex scientific disciplines- economics, biology, social sciences and climate science and even perhaps to solving the universal Theory of Everything. The combination of descendants of the Web and Eureqa could perhaps achieve this within the next several decades.
So if the challenges as defined may be almost impossible to overcome, why is FuturICT so vital?
Because it’s the next step in an essential learning curve that humanity has to experience in order to improve and refine its predictive capability. Such a process will be essential if we are to survive the approaching Armageddon of climate change and many other critical challenges.
This is the next major step – a proof of concept of a new era of mega-modelling. That is why it is so important – not whether it can produce perfect results, but whether we can learn enough to continue to make progress in this vital area for our future wellbeing.
There are no shortcuts in this endeavour – it will be and always has been a step by step evolutionary journey.
FuturICT will play a key role in eventually linking with the full computational intelligence of the Web to create a new societal decision framework never before contemplated by human society.
Accepting the decision capability of the Web as an equal and in the future- senior decision partner, integrating up to 10 billion human minds, will be one of the defining paradigm shifts of our times. It will involve a very radical mind-shift. Large cooperative projects such as FutureICT are essential stepping stones towards this goal.
This is what FuturICT has to teach us.