FuturICT – an epistemic infrastructure in the making

An interesting endeavour was recently brought to my attention that, I think, is well worth checking out: the FuturICT project. I will just give you a sample of quotes from the website and you will immediately see that this project in more than one way relates to the topic of this blog:
“FuturICT wants science to catch up with the speed at which new problems and opportunities are arising in our changing world as consequences of globalization, technological, demographic and environmental change, and make a contribution to strengthening our societies’ adaptiveness, resilience, and sustainability.  It will do so by developing new scientific approaches and combining these with the best established methods in areas like multi-scale computer modeling, social supercomputing, large-scale data mining and participatory platforms. (…) The FuturICT Knowledge Accelerator is a previously unseen multidisciplinary international scientific endeavour with focus on techno-socio-economic-environmental systems. (…) Revealing the hidden laws and processes underlying societies probably constitutes the most pressing scientific grand challenge of our century and is equally important for the development of novel robust, trustworthy and adaptive information and communication technologies (ICT), based on socially inspired paradigms. We think that integrating ICT, Complexity Science and the Social Sciences will create a paradigm shift, facilitating a symbiotic co-evolution of ICT and society. Data from our complex globe-spanning ICT system will be leveraged to develop models of techno-socio-economic systems. In turn, insights from these models will inform the development of a new generation of socially adaptive, self-organized ICT systems. (…) The FuturICT flagship proposal intends to unify hundreds of the best scientists in Europe in a 10 year 1 billion EUR program to explore social life on earth and everything it relates to.”
Basically, as it appears to me, the FuturICT is a call to arms of sorts for social scientists of all persuasions to do something with the myriad of data our current ICT systems are producing. The aim is to build an epistemic infrastructure, or rather a range of infrastructures that would put all these data to use. One of the interesting things is that everybody can at this point is invited to join in, though the emphasis is clearly on building a large network of institutions, the current state of which you can see here. It very probably though will not hurt to leave your name, affiliation and expertise, if only to be updated as things progress. Some of the information provided at the website does sound kind of sci-fi, some of it kind of eery, but believe me, as I happen to know some of the people involved, these people are very serious – and they are very capable. So, I am very curious what this will grow into.
One thing this made we wonder about with respect to the exploration of infrastructures in general was whether we have been giving quantity enough thought. The impetus for the FuturICT initiative is the mass of data already available, and the rationale is that the very fact of having these data not only will support an epistemic infrastructure but that is also constitutes an outright demand for it. Is this not something which dintinguishes infrastrutures (e.g. infrastructures for traffic, services or electric power) from other types of networks and socio-technical assemblages: that there is some input or throughput, that it comes in high numbers, and that developer-entrepreneurs try to establish infrastructures as complements or as purpose-giving or profit-generating tools with respect to the throughput?

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

One thought on “FuturICT – an epistemic infrastructure in the making

  1. Sounds really interesting and ambitious. But, I agree, a little sci-fi and ironic, too. It seems like they will try to battle society’s complexity with complexity science by reducing complexity with the help of radically simplifying. But anyway, I agree with Hendrik, it’s worth following their work

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