Beyond FuturICT

Attending the International Symposium on Service Systems Science on the 26.02.2014 in Tokyo, I got a glimpse on how the next steps of FuturICT and how similar projects and efforts are on their way in Japan.

Although the FuturICT project did not get funding from the EU so far (I still believe this was a grave mistake), I can see that the spirit and our ideas live on. The Japanese COI-T Program focuses on the same issues and problems as FuturICT.


Dirk Helbing’s presentation gave an overview of the FuturICT effort and the refined research agenda. I really enjoyed seeing how the material has matured. Also the talks from Shunri Oda and Maso Fukuma addressed similar problems and presented similar conclusions.

In the afternoon, Cornelius Herstatt gave some interesting observations about the future potential of the Japanese Market. Especially, I liked his conclusions about the use of robots in society: Seeing robots not as replacements to workers but as complementary, allowing more independence and privacy for older adults.

#Take Home Message# Not sure, if I got it right as social and system sciences are quite new to me, but what I took home from the symposium: System behavior is determined by connectivity patterns, coupling strength, interactions etc. and small changes in any of them can lead to dramatic changes in the overall system. Technology today has fundamentally changed connectivity and coupling in human interactions. Yet, so far we develop technology as a standalone in an uncontrolled way. So far, we have little idea how it influences society.

The Internet made any piece of digital, archival knowledge instantly, globally available. We are now at the verge of any real life event becoming, instantly globally connected to the digital domain. With this “Internet of Things” we might have a perfect substrate and basis to explore these effects. A key word seems “participatory social sensing”. FuturICT

#Discussions and Plenary Summary# The discussions centered around the big picture of society and how to induce beneficial change (as well as to prevent negative effects). Yet, most strikingly, the panel members also mentioned some concrete ideas about change and addressed especially the research community. There was a long discussion about how to accelerate research, in which Dirk Helbing again emphasized his concept of an “Idea Github for researchers”: a platform to share ideas /implementations and research results more freely with easy reproducibility and attribution to the corresponding inventors. The main premise is it should not take us 2-3 years to finally publish our findings.

I ran into this problem, also in the wearable computing field. It is hard for “outsiders” (researchers not in the community) to enter the field. If they just read papers and work on the published research, they can never work on bleeding edge research. You have to meet with people of the different labs and know what they are working on to find interesting topics (and more important they have to trust you …).

#Concluding# I’m very happy that the FuturICT lives on. In general, I find the Japanese research community is very open towards social computing, especially the idea of participatory social sensing. Maybe it’s more fruitful to continue the project ideas first here in Japan. It’s a bit sad that Europe has given away the chance of being a innovation leader in this field. Yet meeting Dirk again and seeing how his ideas and research towards social computing matured and developed was also great. Europe might have missed a chance, yet there’s still hope ;)

If you got interested in research about society and social science, I can recommed “Society is a Complex Matter” by Philip Ball. It’s an engaging read for novices to the topic. I could get a copy of at the event.