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Handbook of Research on Agent-Based Societies: Social and Cultural Interactions

Trajkovski, Goran, Collins, Samuel G. (Eds.)
Information Science Reference: Hershey, PA, USA, 2009
ISBN 1605662364 (pb)

Preface, Table of Contents and Contributors

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Reviewed by John Bragin
UCLA Human Complex Systems Program

Cover of book Agent-Based Modeling is generally held to be the core methodology of human complex systems science. Although it is possible to express any ABM in mathematical terms (see Erdi 2008, § 9.1.3 for an example of how this has been done with one of the Sugarscape models of Epstein and Axtell) there are a number of reasons why ABM approaches are fundamentally more useful, practical and provide greater explanatory insight for social scientists than do mathematical and statistical models (see Macy and Willer 2002 and Gilbert 2008). Nevertheless, the agent-based modeler must be as rigorous as the mathematician or statistician: "agent-based models have to be complete, consistent, and unambiguous if they are to be capable of being executed on a computer" (Gilbert 2008).

This ambitious anthology explores the application of ABMs to society and culture, although the editors seem more focused on theoretical models (including proof of concept simulations) than on dealing with extant empirical situations. And there is an emphasis on cognitive processes and interaction to the exclusion of much important work in such more material areas as financial and economic systems. That being said, no general book in this rapidly growing methodology can be all things to all potential readers, and there are other volumes (such as Tesfatsion and Judd 2006 on agent-based computational economics) that will satisfy those whose interests are not covered in detail in this anthology.

There are 23 chapters (by 40 authors from a variety of large and small, academic and non-academic institutions predominantly in the USA and UK) divided into three sections. Section I: Initial States explores foundation concepts and methods that are treated in specific models in the second and third sections. These ideas include the sociology of emergence, the relation between agent cognition/behavior and social structures/processes, the social psychology of agent interactions, agent-based approaches to cultural transmission, and the role that agents play in e-business applications (including practicality, efficiency and trust).

Section II: Emergences deals with two aspects of what the editors call 'first order emergences' in which higher-order structures and processes arise that both constrain and enable agent cognition and behavior, but unlike the 'second order emergences' of the next section, agents do not change their behaviors according to their awareness of these emergences. The first aspect of this first-order emergence is (as Keith Sawyer writes in Chapter I: The Science of Social Emergence) the 'simultaneous focus on three levels of analysis: individuals, their interactional dynamics, and the socially emergent properties of the group', and the second aspect is the possibility of using ABM methodologies to solve some current, human-collective problems. The chapters in this section focus on a variety of first order processes involving learning, messaging, communication feedback, perception, the construction of meaning, language syntax, emotion-based agents, and human-robot interactions. Sawyer's three-level focus does not seem to include the important fourth level of culture as a shared, constructed reality that individuals acquire as members of a society (apart from emergent social arrangements in themselves). Some of the chapters in this section touch on facets of this, particularly those on learning and the construction of meaning, but the inclusion of simulation models dealing directly and in depth with the ideational view of culture would have been good here (e.g., see Read 2003[1]).

Section III: Second Order Emergences treats the creation of believable autonomous agents in virtual learning environments, social reputation diffusion and evolution, belief propagation and influence, the human mirror neuron system (including the effects of auto-mirroring on behavior), and the emergence of security problems in the modeling of network intrusions. I find three chapters of this section of particular interest as they return to broad theoretical and applied questions similar to those of the first section, this time with a second-order emergence perspective. The authors of Chapter XX (Relationships between the Processes of Emergence and Abstraction in Societies by Eric Baumer and Bill Tomlinson) argue that the process of emergence is the converse of the process of abstraction and that there is an abstraction-emergence loop: "the abstractions that individuals make will determine what behaviors emerge, and the behaviors that emerge in the society determine what abstractions will be made". Chapter XXI ( Emergent Reasoning Structures in Law by Vern R. Walker) deals with the emergence of reasoning structures in the law. And the final chapter (Search as A Tool for Emergence by six authors from the Argonne National Laboratory) explores a variety of search methods as tools for emergence.

The book has an excellent Preface by the editors, which argues enthusiastically, if a bit rhetorically, for the creation of and the possibility for "more lively machines". There is a Table of Contents as well as an always-useful Detailed Table of Contents with one or two sentence abstracts of the contents of each chapter. Each chapter begins with a substantial one-paragraph abstract, and ends with a Conclusion, sometimes with Future Research Directions, and always with a reference-bibliography specific to its content. There is also the convenience of a 37 page Compilation of References at the end of the volume. Libraries that purchase this work in hardcover are also granted access (without additional charge) to the on-line version of the book.

* Notes

1Readers of this review who would like a copy of Dr. Read's Netlogo simulation model of this material should email the reviewer

* References

ERDI, P (2008) Complexity Explained. Berlin & Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag

GILBERT, N (2008) Agent-Based Models. London: SAGE Publications

MACY, MW and Willer, R (2002) From Factors to Actors: Computational Sociology and Agent-Based Modeling, Annual Review of Sociology, 28, pp. 143-66

READ, D (2003) Emergent Properties in Small-Scale Societies, Artificial Life, 9, pp. 419-434

TESFATSION, L and Judd, K (eds) (2006) Handbook of Computational Economics, 2: Agent-Based Computational Economics. North Holland: Elsevier


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