Like Alberg and Recorded Future, Helbing -- a German-born physicist, mathematician and sociologist -- hopes to use computer software to achieve a level of prescience that priests of the ancient Oracle at Delphi would envy. But Helbing wants to cast an even wider net for data, in hopes of getting a glimpse of not just of a few isolated events, but of big sweeping longer-term changes that will affect humans all over the planet.
At the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Helbing is leading the creation of the Living Earth Simulator Project, a $1.4 billion effort to build a massive supercomputer system capable of modeling just about any sort of event that could occur on Earth. LES, which Helbing describes as a "nervous system for the planet," would amass everything from government economic statistics to tweets from everyday Joes. It could also tap into data generated by the increasing number of Internet-connected machines and sensors, and even peruse photos uploaded to the Web by smartphone cameras.
To make sense of this bewildering tsunami of seemingly unrelated stuff, LES employs complicated algorithms, or predictive equations, to look for interconnections between seemingly unrelated events. Helbing envisions that the simulator will be able to predict events ranging from wars and financial crises and epidemics of infectious diseases -- ideally, with enough time to spare so that political, business and scientific leaders can take steps to avert disasters before they actually occur [sources: Helbing, Daily Mail, Coldewey]. The European Commission and 30 leading research institutions around the world have formed a consortium to support the project [source: Daily Mail].