|Computer models and simulations are used
for state of the art research, testing and planning in areas ranging from
the design of commercial jets to the simulation of crowd movements in new
sports complexes. While these models represent crucial research tools
and instruments for analysis, models have also been known to misrepresent
data and present false information as well. This page seeks to explore
this topic by first examining some of the better known uses of computer
models and simulations, then looking at the limitations of computer models
in general and the impact of computer simulations on the general public.
Specifically, the page is divided into the following four articles:
||Modeling the Universe|
|One of the most important
uses of modeling and simulation technology is in the area of weather pattern
simulation and forecasting. A wide variety of weather models are
at the disposal of meteorologists, many of which are available online.
These simulations promise accurate predictions of weather forecasts based
on the vast array of satellite, radar, and other data available to weather
forecasters. Millions of citizens watch the product of these simulations
on the TV news each night on the news. NASA meteorologists depend
on models to predict weather conditions for space missions. Oil companies
rely on accurate weather forecasts via computer models to insure oil rigs
worth billions survive the dangerous tow to their destination. Certainly
the effects of such computer models are far-reaching.
This, of course, begs the question of whether we rely too much on such models to predict weather patterns and whether the forecasts they generate are indeed accurate. In fact, weather models tend to be quite accurate given the amount of complexity of the systems they are intended to model. Several factors contribute to the reliability and accuracy of such models:
More information regarding computer models and weather forecasting in general is available in the USA Today article Weather Forecasting. It contains a good amount of information on the topic of weather forecasting models in addition to topics regarding the subject of weather forecasting in general.
|Computer modeling and simulation
is certainly not limited to the somewhat uninspiring roles of business
models and weather forecasting. In perhaps its most extravagant role,
computer modeling is used to help solve mysteries on a literally galactic
Recently, physicists have been introducing computer models to help verify the existence of elusive cold dark matter in the universe. Supercomputers and computer modeling are to assist in the replacement of nuclear testing with what is claimed to be the computer simulated equivalent. Researchers at Cornell are amongst the many scientists exploring the evolution of the universe with the aid of computer models. With more powerful microprocessors and storage devices emerging on a continual basis, scientists and engineers are starting to embrace the computer simulation as a means for modeling the complex systems of the real world.
The difficulty with assessing the validity of such systems lies, in part, with the fact that modern science and technology is far out of the reach of the average individual. Whether a computer model can replace a full-fledged nuclear test is a question of importance to many, but which can only be answered by those intimately familiar with this advanced technology. However, there certainly are guidelines by which one may judge the validity of any such simulated system. Some of these guidelines follow:
|While computer models have been very successful
at assisting scientists and engineers with solving complex problems, the
power of the computer model to simulate reality has often been misrepresented
as well. As pointed out in the Wired
magazine article, "Simulation
has its limits", the computer model possesses the dangerous capability
of affording one a false sense of security. The NTSB forgoed the
use of more advanced forms of testing in its simulation of the events leading
to the tragic explosion of TWA
Flight 800 in favor of a more expensive direct approach. By performing
direct testing via sensors on a similar Boeing 747, the NTSB acknowledged
the limits of the computer model in providing us a simulated representation
of the real world.
The question then becomes simple. What, in the age of exotic 3-D renderings and virtual reality is preventing the complete obsolescence of real-world testing? Why bother to test or to study in the physical world when the processing capabilities of modern computers seems almost limitless? Here are some answers to those questions:
|Computer modeling and
simulation is no longer strictly the domain of scientists and engineers
working on supercomputers pushing the state of the art. With the
advent of smaller and faster microprocessors and storage devices, the power
of the advanced simulator is available to the home PC user. Here
are some examples of simulators available (or soon to be available) to
the home PC user:
What problems, if any, do these simulations pose? It is difficult to argue that images emanating from a 15" or 17" monitor could be misconstrued as the real thing. However, with technology continually advancing, the prospect of a virtual reality universe unto itself is fast approaching. Highly sensory experiences such as that from a roller coaster ride or a bumpy plane ride are now available to theme park visitors across the country. The most apparent threat thus far has been that people will replace outdoor sports and recreational activities with their less strenuous simulations on their PC's or their Nintendo 64's.
However, the threat may in fact be more serious than we, at first, perceive. Here are some more pressing concerns regarding the influence of simulations on our daily lives: