FuturICT: New Era of Participatory Global Computing

ETH Zurich’s Dirk Helbing on the FuturICT research project, a sort of Big Data crystal ball for the world, and its core Living Earth Platform.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
730 Montgomery St., San Francisco, 94111 United States


June 13, 2012 from 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm

swissnex San Francisco welcomes Dirk Helbing from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich) for an exploration of current Big Data challenges and opportunities, as seen through the prism of the FuturICT project, one of the European Commission’s large-scale, science-driven research initiatives known as FET Flagships.

FuturICT has attracted the attention of the science and business media, generating contrasting reactions in the likes of Scientific American and Fast Company. Helbing’s talk is sure to further the Bay Area debate around the potential of Big Data.

The ultimate goal of the FuturICT project is to understand and manage complex, global, socially interactive systems, with a focus on sustainability and resilience. Revealing the hidden laws and processes underlying societies is among the most pressing scientific challenges of our century; it is equally important for the development of novel, robust, trustworthy, and adaptive information and communication technologies (ICT) based on socially inspired approaches. To achieve this goal, the FuturICT aims to integrate ICT, complexity science, and the social sciences and facilitate a symbiotic co-evolution of these fields.

“Data from our complex globe-spanning ICT systems 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,” report leaders of the project.

“FuturICT as a whole will act as a Knowledge Accelerator, turning massive data into knowledge and technological progress. In this way, FuturICT will create the scientific methods and ICT platforms needed to address planetary-scale challenges and opportunities in the 21st century. Specifically, FuturICT will build a sophisticated simulation, visualization and participation platform, called the Living Earth Platform. This platform will power Crisis Observatories, to detect and mitigate crises, and Participatory Platforms, to support the decision-making of policy-makers, managers, and citizens.”


6:30 pm  doors open
7:00 pm  introductory remarks
7:10 pm  presentation by Dirk Helbing, ETH Zurich
7:50 pm  Q&A
8.30 pm  reception and networking
10:00 pm  doors close


Dirk Helbing

Dirk Helbing was born on January 19, 1965. He studied physics and mathematics, but was always interested in other fields of science as well. In 2000, he became Professor and Managing Director of the Institute for Transport & Economics at Dresden University of Technology, and in 2007 he was appointed Professor of Sociology, in particular of Modeling and Simulation, at ETH Zurich. Since 2008, he has been an elected member of the German Academy of Sciences “Leopoldina”.
More than 200 publications in different scientific fields, 300 talks and more than 300 reports in the public media reflect Helbing’s wide interest, reaching from traffic science of crowds and disaster management to biologically inspired logistics. He has collaborated on projects with Xerox PARC, Volkswagen, SCA Packaging, Siemens, PTV, and various other companies and foundations.
Helbing’s team developed a traffic assistance system and patented the principle of a self-organized traffic light control, which implements massively parallel, decentralized control concepts for the optimization of traffic flows. The resulting increase of performance and the higher flexibility are based on the latest developments in the understanding of complex systems. Companies and societies are other examples of such complex systems. This is also the reason why he is interested in sociology.
As scientific coordinator of the FuturICT flagship project, Helbing is promoting the collaboration of natural, social, and engineering sciences to address the challenges of the complex and strongly interdependent global techno-socio-economic-environmental systems we have created. He believes that we need to develop a global systems science, a new data science and a systemic risk calculus. Therefore, he is also the founding vice chairman and strategic head of the ETH Risk Center.
Dirk Helbing is excited about everything that stimulates curiosity and intellect, in particular science, culture, and international exchange. Generally, he enjoys challenges and the exploration of unknown territory. He loves nature, in particular mountain hiking, skiing, jogging, and swimming, and he is a fan of a diverse and creative cuisine.


Photo: Myleen Hollero

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