Agent-Based Modeling from Playground to Planet: Applications to Policy – Joshua Epstein

Agent-Based Models (ABMs) are artificial societies of software people (though agents can also be mosquitoes, viruses, vehicles, teams) who interact with one another to generate surprising and important social patterns of scientific and policy interest. Racial segregation, intergroup conflict, skewed distributions of wealth, pandemic spread, financial contagion, ancient civilizations, urban dynamics, social networks, and more have been generated “from the bottom up” in micro-worlds of agents. The method of agents positions us to understand how the micro world of individuals generates the macro world of collective phenomena. Indeed, the agent-based model is the principal scientific instrument in providing generative explanations for macro-patterns. The motto of this new “generative” social science is, “If you didn’t grow it, you didn’t explain it.” And we have grown a lot!

About Joshua Epstein

Dr. Epstein has extensive experience in mathematical and computational modeling of biomedical and social dynamics at all scales - from local to national to planetary. He pioneered the technique of agent-based computational modeling and has applied it to problems in social, behavioral, and biomedical science by modeling patterns of infectious diseases (e.g., Ebola, 2009 Swine Flu pandemic, smallpox, HIV), vector-borne diseases (e.g., Zika), urban disaster preparedness, contagious violence, the evolution of norms, economic dynamics, computational reconstruction of the ancient civilization of the Anasazi, and the emergence of social classes, among many other topics. To design evacuation and longer-term adaptation to climate change, he combined computational fluid dynamics (i.e. toxic plume dispersion) with human behavior to create a stunning 3D artificial Los Angeles. In response to Zika and in collaboration with colleagues and the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Dr. Epstein has developed an artificial New York City to be applied to urban health policy challenges. His work has had a profound influence on emerging infectious diseases, bioterrorism, and the nascent field of disaster health, which is being developed under Presidential Directive.

Dr. Epstein is the Director of the Agent-Based Modeling Lab, which works with large-scale epidemic models and cognitively plausible agents in order to produce a transformative synthesis for global public health modeling through the generative social science approach.