Back in April, we looked at an ambitious European plan to simulate the entire planet. The idea is to exploit the huge amounts of data generated by financial markets, health records, social media and climate monitoring to model the planet’s climate, societies and economy. The vision is that a system like this can help to understand and predict crises before they occur so that governments can take appropriate measures in advance.
There are numerous challenges here. Nobody yet has the computing power necessary for such a task, neither are there models that will can accurately model even much smaller systems. But before any of that is possible, researchers must gather the economic, social and technological data needed to feed this machine.
Today, we get a grand tour of this challenge from Dirk Helbing and Stefano Balietti at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Helbing is the driving force behind this project and the man who will lead it if he gets the EUR 1 billion he needs from the European Commission.
It turns out that there are already numerous sources of data that could provide the necessary fuel to power Helbing’s Earth Simulator. “In the past, collecting data of human activity has been largely obstructed by financial, technological and ethical issues,” say Helbing and Balietti. That is no longer the case.
While good data from social sciences experiments has been hard to come by in the past, researchers are currently swamped by it thanks to a new generation of lab experiments, web experiments and the study of massive multi-player on-line games.
These and other pursuits are now producing massive amounts of data, many of which are freely available on the web.
Of course, one of the dangers from such an approach is that any ethical issues are likely to be swamped by this tidal wave of numbers. This needs to be urgently addressed. While Helbing and colleagues write persuasively about the potential benefits of an Earth Simulator, it’s hard to believe they’ve given the same amount of thought to the potential risks.
So in the interests of stimulating this debate, I’m reproducing here Helbing’s list of websites that are potential sources of data for an Earth Simulator. It makes for fascinating, if unnerving, reading:
Internet and historical snapshots
Internet Archive / Wayback machine
The Internet Archive offers permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format. Founded in 1996, now the Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived
Wikipedia is the most famous cooperatively edited encyclopedia. Since every change is stored, Web pages’ history can offer a detailed subject-based overview of the most important references of the past.
The Knowledge Centers
A collection of links to other resources for finding Web pages as they used to exist in the past.
Whenago provides quick access to historical information about what happened in the past on a given day.
World Digital Library
The World Digital Library (WDL) makes available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.
Information retrieval engines
Freebase is an open, Creative Commons licensed repository of structured data of more than 12 million entities. It provides collaborative tools to link entities together and keep them updated.
Wolfram Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine
An attempt to compute whatever can be computed about anything. It aims to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.
Text mining on the Web
Google Trends shows visual statistics about how often keywords have been searched on Google over time. Google Trends also shows how frequently topics have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most.
Google Flu Trends
Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity. Data available for download as well.
The Observatorium project focuses on complex network dynamics in the Internet, proposing to monitor its evolution in real-time, with the general objective of better understanding the processes of knowledge generation and opinion dynamics.
We Feel Fine
A database of several million human feelings, harvested from blogs and social pages in the Web. Using a series of playful interfaces, the feelings can be searched and sorted across a number of demographic slices. Web api available as well.
The CyberEmotions project focuses on the role of collective emotions in creating, forming and breaking-up ecommunities. It makes available for download three datasets containing news and comments from the BBC News forum, Digg and MySpace, only for academic research and only after the submission of an application form.
Social data sharing
Linked Data is about using the Web to connect related data that was not previously linked, or using the Web to lower the barriers to linking data currently linked using other methods.
Dataverse Network Project
The Dataverse Network is an application to publish, share, reference, extract and analyze research data. It facilitates making data available to others, and allows to replicate others work. Researchers and data authors get credit, publishers and distributors get credit, affiliated institutions get credit.
Data360 is an open-source, collaborative and free Web site. The site hosts a common and shared database, which any person or organization, committed to neutrality and non-partisanship (meaning let the data speak), can use for presentations and visualizations.
Swivel is a web site where people share reports of charts and numbers. It is free for public data, and charges a monthly fee to people who want to use it in private.
A IBM initiative that allows users to upload their datasets and use a collection of tools to obtain meaningful visualizations from them. Each visualization is publicly stored on a dedicated page, where users can comment, rate and tag it. Reuse of the data is possible and encouraged.
CSCW Data on Armed Conflict
CSCW and Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP) at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, have collaborated in the production of a dataset of armed conflicts, both internal and external, in the period 1946 to the present. Currently, probably the most extensive dataset repository available, in particular for historic data.
The aim of the WarViews project is to create an easy-to-use front-end for the exploration of GIS data on conflict. It can run on a Web browser or it can be displayed using Google Earth.
The following are civil war specific datasets with additional empirical information:
Ethnic group location dataset
Ethnic power balances dataset
Collection of updated datasets and codebooks from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP).
Partially contained in the PRIO dataset, ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Events Dataset) is designed for disaggregated conflict analysis and crisis mapping. This dataset codes the location of all reported conflict events in 50 countries in the developing world. Data are currently being coded from 1997 to 2009 and the project continues to backdate conflict information for African states to the year of independence.
The Conflict Analysis Resource Center hosts several cross country conflict data sets and a few datasets of particular countries. Repositories also have datasets of political instability and conflict.
The Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive
The Cross-National Time-Series Data Archive provides annual data for a range of countries from 1815 to the present. Frequently cited, it is one of the leading datasets on political violence”, according to Robert Bates at Harvard University. It is possibly the most widely used event dataset” according to Henrik Urdal, International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO).
Data in economics and finance
International real-time data provider for decision makers in finance, business and government.
Historical statistics about GDP and population data.
The UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics on-line provides time series of economic data and development indicators, in some cases going back as far as 1950; the Commodity Price Statistics Online Database; the UNCTAD-TRAINS on the Internet (Trade Analysis and Information System) for trade control measures as well as import flows by origin for over 130 countries; the Foreign Direct Investment database (FDI).
OECD Statistics Portal
Large collection of datasets covering economics, demographics. Extractions are freely available, full access requires subscription.
Detailed statistics on the EU and candidate countries, and various statistical publications for sale.
Spatial tracking system for U.S. and Canadian dollars.
Spatial tracking system for Euro banknotes.
Scientific collaboration data
ISI Web of Knowledge
Comprehensive source of information in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. It encompasses several datasets, among which the following are maybe the most noteworthy:
Journal Citation Reports. It allows one to evaluate and compare journals using citation data drawn from over 7,500 scholarly and technical journals;
Web of Science. It consists of seven databases containing information gathered from thousands of scholarly journals, books, book series, reports, conferences, and more.
Google Scholar is search engine specialized in scholarly literature. It indexes different sources (articles, books, abstract, thesis, etc.) from several disciplines and sorts them according to number of citations, author and journal impact factor.
Scholarometer is a social tool to facilitate citation analysis and help evaluate the impact of an author’s publications. It works as a software plug-in for the Firefox browser.
Scopus is a very large abstract and citation database of research literature. It is available only for registered users.
Living Science is a real time global science observatory based on publications submitted to arXiv.org. It covers real time (daily) submissions of publications in areas as diverse as Physics, Astronomy, Computer Science, Mathematics and Quantitative Biology. Currently, contents are dynamically updated each day. Living Science is a powerful analysis tool to identify the magnitude and impact of scientific work worldwide.
ICPSR of the University of Michigan
ICPSR offers more than 500,000 digital files containing social science research data. Disciplines represented include political science, sociology, demography, economics, history, gerontology, criminal justice, public health, foreign policy, terrorism, health and medical care, early education, education, racial and ethnic minorities, psychology, law, substance abuse and mental health, and more.
UK Data Center of the University of Essex
The UK’s largest collection of digital research data in the social sciences and humanities.
Berkeley’s UC DATA Archive
UC DATA’s data holdings are primarily in the areas of Political, Social and Health Sciences.
The Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS)
The Economic and Social Data Service (ESDS) is a national data service providing access and support for an extensive range of key economic and social data, both quantitative and qualitative, spanning many disciplines and themes. It contains a map of additional datasets from several European countries.
Wide data collections including sociological surveys, election studies, longitudinal studies, opinion polls, and census data. Among the materials are international and European data such as the European Social Survey, the Eurobarometers, and the International Social Survey Programme.
Gapminder is a popular technology and Web application for cross-visualisation of trends in time series of data. It also opens an archive of multiple datasets on diverse socio-economic indicators.
World Value Survey
The World Value Survey provides data about values and cultural changes in societies all over the world.
Global Urban Observatory database
The Global Urban Observatory (GUO) offers policy-oriented urban indicators, statistics and other urban information.
U.S. based datasets about wealth, innovation and crime across cities.
The Next Generation Simulation (NGSIM) program was initiated by the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT). The program developed a core of open behavioral algorithms in support of traffic simulation, and collected high-quality primary trac and trajectory data intended to support the research and testing of the new algorithms.
Swiss Federal Roads Office FEDRO
The Swiss Federal Roads Office offers a comprehensive overview on traffic flows in Switzerland. Data are collected by permanent automatic traffic counting stations and complemented by regular manual checking since 1961.
The aim of the International Traffic Database (ITDb) project is to provide traffic data to various groups (researchers, practitioners, public entities) in a format according to their particular needs, ranging from raw measurement data to statistical analysis. ITDb promotes a flexible traffic data provision format based on user needs and standard habits.
Clearing House for Transport Data
The Clearing House for Transport Data in the German Aerospace Center is the first point of contact for a quick overview of the available data. It is targeted at both organizations who gather transport-relevant data and those who wish to use the results of such research. The information offered includes the preparation of detailed metadata on the data sets, as well as notes on possible uses and sources.
Desweiteren das Regiolab Delft
The regiolab-delft initiative started just after 2000 as a joint project led by TU Delft in association with the Municipality of Delft, the TRAIL research school, the Province of South Holland, the Ministry of Transport and several industrial partners. The archived dataset consists of over 6 years of 1 minute averaged speed and aggregate flow data from densely spaced inductive loops on the freeway network in the province of south Holland and other data from intersection controllers, license plate detection camera’s and much more.
The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation offers several datasets about maritime, freights, airline, passengers, etc. traffic statistics.
ETH Travel Data Archive (ETHTDA)
The ETH Travel Data Archive (ETHTDA) is a virtual platform allowing end users to browse the archived travel data over the Web and enabling simple statistical analysis.
Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive
The Metropolitan Travel Survey Archive to store, preserve, and make publicly available, via the Internet, travel surveys conducted by metropolitan areas, states and localities.
Infoblu is a private company providing real-time traffic monitoring services for Italy. All services are available for a fee.
World-famous map service. It offers several additional services such as: Street View, user-uploaded content (photos, comments and ratings) and personalized overlays through service apis.
OpenStreetMap (by UCL) is a free editable map of the whole world. OpenStreetMap allows you to view, edit and use geographical data in a collaborative way from anywhere on Earth.
Tracksource is a collaborative project aimed at creating and distributing for free maps of Brasil.
National Household Travel Survey
The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) collect data on both long-distance and local travel by the American public. The joint survey gathers trip-related data such as mode of transportation, duration, distance and purpose of trip. It also gathers demographic, geographic, and economic data for analysis purposes. It is part of RITA.
Commodity Flow Survey
The Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) is the primary source of national and state-level data on domestic freight shipments by American establishments in mining, manufacturing, wholesale, auxiliaries, and selected retail industries. Data are provided on the types, origins and destinations, values, weights, modes of transport, distance shipped, and ton-miles of commodities shipped. It is part of RITA and it is conducted every five years (last sampling on 2007).
Climate data from Julich Research Center.
Google introduces its data-driven philanthropic projects, among which two environmental satellite observatories:
the Earth Engine: for monitoring trends in world deforestation;
the Crisis Response: for monitoring the oil spill from the Deep Horizon sank platform.
Behavioral data collected from 100 mobile phones over 9 months. Includes both proximity and phone usage statistics. Two anonymized datasets available: single user (MySQL) and global (Matlab).
Other open data initiatives
Wide collection of public US datasets available for research.
Wide collection of public UK datasets available for research.
Digging Into Data
Launched by the National Science Foundation (NSF), it offers a collection of diverse data repositories.
Guardian Data Blog
Data journalism initiative that posts public interest (primarily UK relevant) datasets together with their analysis. A few collaborations with data visualization artists are present as well.
Google Public Data
Google offers several large datasets on diverse world socio-economic indicators and provides tools for easy visualization.
Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1012.0178: From Social Data Mining to Forecasting Socio-Economic Crises
Three things to know about the White House’s executive order on AI
Experts say its emphasis on content labeling, watermarking, and transparency represents important steps forward.
A high school’s deepfake porn scandal is pushing US lawmakers into action
Legislators are responding quickly after teens used AI to create nonconsensual sexually explicit images.
A controversial US surveillance program is up for renewal. Critics are speaking out.
Here's what you need to know.
Meta is giving researchers more access to Facebook and Instagram data
There’s still so much we don’t know about social media’s impact. But Meta president of global affairs Nick Clegg tells MIT Technology Review that he hopes new tools the company just released will start to change that.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.