Computer simulation of Earth helping to solve real-life global issues
A computer simulation of Earth is currently being built to help solve real-life global issues.
By building a "digital twin" of the planet, artificial intelligence software could soon be solving some of the greatest challenges mankind is up against.
As computer technology continues to come on in leaps and bounds, this software is now within touching distance and could soon be up and running to find solutions to major issues such as food production shortages.
The heavy hitter in this area is CGI, which has been awarded a contract to develop the software by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Initial focus will be on food production by predicting how climate change will affect crops and how this can be fought, with a simulation called the Food System Digital Twin Precursor.
This could carry out tasks such as showing how the UK will manage its crops post-Brexit.
It is hoped that this will make the case for creating a large-scale "digital twin" of Earth to tackle global issues.
This digital twin would be a reconstruction of the planet in order to help "follow the science" in all decision-making by running through different scenarios to see what would work best.
The simulator could be used to forecast the effects of climate change in different areas around the world on crop growth.
This could then help to create a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, as the model could ensure crops are grown in the most sustainable locations that require the least amount of transportation.
CGI’s UK vice president of space data platforms and applications Jaime Reed described the digital twin as a "game-changer".
He said: "People have dreamed of modelling these really big, tricky problems for years and now, because of the computing power that is available, we are finally on the verge of being able to do it which is exciting.
"We hear a lot of negative things about companies using data for advertising and so on but we can take a lot of that technology and use it to make tangible differences to people’s lives."
Although he acknowledged that it would also be a "very big challenge" and similar to predicting the weather.
He said: "Nothing like this has ever been done before other than weather forecasting, which has taken 50 years using computers to get to where we are today. Everybody thinks it is feasible but we need to prove it so this project is really on that cutting edge to show it is possible."
The company plans to use artificial intelligence to build the Food System Digital Twin Precursor.
It will use a swathe of data – including socio-economic, satellite, weather, climate, and population data – to generate accurate results to solve pressing issues around the world.
The precursor will be developed by a team including Oxford University Innovation, Trillium, and IIASA.
Mr Reed said: "The aim is to build something that is useful. It is really about the community coming together to deliver a game-changer."
CGI has delivered space software systems for clients across Europe, Asia, and North America for over 40 years.
Mr Reed said: "This builds on all the heritage we have in this area as we have been doing this kind of thing for quite a long time."
Gordon Campbell at the European Space Agency said this is an "extremely challenging development activity" but could be a "step change" in the information available to decision-makers in areas such as food security, protecting ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as planning energy production.
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