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On the Record

Can We Model The Real World

Joshua M. Epstein

LIZ ELSE: How does your work differ from what other modellers have been trying to do for years?

JOSHUA M. EPSTEIN: We create artificial societies of individual “agents” who behave like simple but plausible humans. We can simulate large numbers of people who differ from each other in various ways – their rules of behaviour, information, genetics and ethnic identities – and who interact locally. We can look at how those local interactions generate macroscopic patterns in society. That’s why I call this “generative social science”. We are building agent-based societies that are much richer than was possible 20 years ago. Mathematical economics and game theory focus on static equilibrium, and typically posit highly rational individuals. We are interested in bounded rationality – more like Homo sapiens than Homo economicus – and in dynamics. Of course, our method raises as many questions as it answers.

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