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University College London's Department of Mathematics is in the running with the FuturICT project, which aims to create a planetary-scale computer called a 'Living Earth Platform'.
The project's goal is both grand and abstract — a combination of ICT, social sciences and 'complexity science', it would provide new insights into the functioning of society and possibly the discovery of new laws of nature. Dynamic data sources such as crowd-sourced sensor information, digital media, social networks, blogs and public infrastructure would feed into a 'nervous system' of society, which would be used to analyse and manage complex events.
The Living Earth Platform could be used to predict natural disasters or manage and respond to man-made disasters that involve multiple countries or even continents. Societies could be modelled and areas for targeted technological development identified. Ultimately, the team hopes, the platform could lead to more sustainable living and better thought-out social and economic policies.
Photo credit: Mike Trenchard, Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center
Human Brain Project
The Brain Mind Institute at Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) is the only institute to have two projects in the final six, the first of which is its 'Human Brain Project' (HBP).
The proposed project would build an informatics, modelling and supercomputing infrastructure that would be capable of performing simulations of the human brain. According to the Commission, this would require research in high-performance computing and neuro-morphic computing — emulating brain circuitry — as well as brain-machine interfaces and robotics.
If it becomes one of the two winners, the EPFL would build a Facility for Brain Simulation, which would get to work on modelling the brain and running an internet-accessible 'simulation cockpit', allowing researchers from around the world to conduct virtual experiments and collaborate with one another.
Ultimately, the project aims to not only better understand the brain but to reuse some of its tricks in IT. After all, as the Commission notes, the human brain is "a very fast, massively parallel, distributed machine with negligible energy consumption (just 20-30W)", resilient to damage and very good at adaptation and prediction.
Photo credit: EPFL
Guardian Angels project
Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) has a second finalist in the running for the ultimate multi-million-euro prize: the Guardian Angels project.
The idea here is to develop "zero-power intelligent autonomous systems-of-systems" involving smart-sensor and control technologies that extract energy from their immediate environment. Such technologies are already used in everything from thermostats to car safety features, but they require something else to power them — if they could power themselves, the EPFL reckons, a whole new field of portable gadgets, wearable health monitors and critical safety technologies could emerge.
Ultimately, the researchers hope, such technologies could lead to autonomous 'guardian angel' systems that make people healthier and safer. To achieve this, the institute wants to create new low-energy nano-electronics and systems that can harvest solar and thermal energy, generating power using vibrations and electromagnetic waves.