Agent-based models – because they’re worth it?

So term is drawing to an end. There’s lots been going on since I last posted here and I’ll write a full update of that over the Christmas break. I’ll just highlight here quickly that the agent-based modelling book I contributed to has now been published.

Agent-Based Models of Geographical Systems, is editied by Alison Heppenstall, Andrew Crooks, Linda See and Mike Batty and presents a comprehensive collection of papers on the background, theory, technical issues and applications of agent-based modelling (ABM) in geographical systems. David O’Sullivan, George Perry, John Wainwright and I put together a paper entitled ‘Agent-based models – because they’re worth it?’ that falls into the ‘Principles and Concepts of Agent-Based Modelling’ section of the book. To give an idea of what the paper is about, here’s the opening paragraph:

“In this chapter we critically examine the usefulness of agent-based models (ABMs) in geography. Such an examination is important be-cause although ABMs offer some advantages when considered purely as faithful representations of their subject matter, agent-based approaches place much greater demands on computational resources, and on the model-builder in their requirements for explicit and well-grounded theories of the drivers of social, economic and cultural activity. Rather than assume that these features ensure that ABMs are self-evidently a good thing – an obviously superior representation in all cases – we take the contrary view, and attempt to identify the circumstances in which the additional effort that taking an agent-based approach requires can be justified. This justification is important as such models are also typically demanding of detailed data both for input parameters and evaluation and so raise other questions about their position within a broader research agenda.”

In the paper we ask:

  • Are modellers agent-based because they should be or because they can be?
  • What are agents? And what do they do?
  • So when do agents make a difference?

To summarise our response to this last question we argue;

“Where agents’ preferences and (spatial) situations differ widely, and where agents’ decisions substantially alter the decision-making con-texts for other agents, there is likely to be a good case for exploring the usefulness of an agent-based approach. This argument focuses attention on three model features: heterogeneity of the decision-making context of agents, the importance of interaction effects, and the overall size and organization of the system.”

Hopefully people will find this, and the rest of the book useful! You can check out the full table of contents here.

O’Sullivan, D., J.D.A. Millington, G.L.W. Perry, J. Wainwright (2012) Agent-based models – because they’re worth it? p.109 – 123 In: Heppenstall, A.J., A.T. Crooks, L.M. See, M. Batty (Eds.) Agent-Based Models of Geographical Systems, Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-8927-4_6

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