6 Jul 2012

Slides from ESSA Summer School: "Personal understanding and publically useful knowledge in Social Simulation"

My talk at the ESSA summer school in Toulouse (http://www.irit.fr/essa-summer-school-2012), which was very enjoyable, some great up-and-coming researchers and a great location/organisation.

Talk Abstract:

There are two different ways in which social simulation can help a researcher - by honing their intuition about how certain models and mechanisms (roughly what Polanyi meant by "Personal Knowledge") and in demonstrating hypotheses that might be interesting and relevant to other researchers in the field (roughly what Popper meant by "Objective Knowledge").  Both are valid goals and useful, indeed I would argue both are essential to real progress in social simulation.  However, too often, these are conflated and confused, to the detriment of social simulation.  This talk aims to clearly distinguish between the two modes, including the different ways of obtaining them, their different (and complementary) uses as well as when and how these are appropriate to communicate to others.  In short a "model" of simulation usefulness is outlined with implications for the method of social simulation.

Slides at: http://www.slideshare.net/BruceEdmonds/personal-understanding-and-publically-useful-knowledge-in-social-simulation

3 Jul 2012

Invited Talk at iEMMs 2012: "Context in Environmental Modelling - the room around the elephant"

This paper is related to the papers:

but covers new topics and illustrations, working towards a more general formulation of the key problem and possible responses.

The slides are at: http://www.slideshare.net/BruceEdmonds/context-in-environmental-modelling-the-room-around-the-elephant

There is a video at: (last half of it)


Behaviour in society and the responses from the environment are both highly context-dependent.  There is a lot of evidence that hyman cognition and behaviour depends sharply on the percieved context.  Human collective and social behaviour is even more so, indeed may be structured around co-determined contexts that are then entrenched within our training, infrastructure and habits.  Similarly ecological niches, where species adapt to each other can be highly specific to a particular set of environmental affordences.  The response to a pertabation (e.g. reduction of a resource or introduction of a new species) depends highly on the environmental context.

However, to a very large extent, our formal models of the environment and of our interaction with the environment are context-free.  It is often simply assumed that the variations due to specific contexts can be dealt with as a kind of "noise" to a main trend or interaction.  Whilst this maybe sometimes the case, this assumption is rarely justified by any evidence or indeed convincing argument .  Often it seems that context is ignored simply because it seems too difficult to do otherwise, so work proceeds simply on the hope that context-dependency can be treated as a kind of noise.  Other strategies to avoid the issue of context include keeping to within a single, very restricted context (which prevents any general conclusions) or remaining in the world of analogy and natural language discourse (where context-dependency is masked by the innate ability of humans to reapply analogies on the fly). I argue that this must often not be the case and that a collection of context dependent interactions if treated in this way, can result in very different outcomes, especially when one needs to scale any conclusions.

I then seek to show some possible ways forward, ways to include some of the context-dependency in our techniques and models.  These include kinds of agent-based modelling that include context-awareness in the agents and actors, kinds of data-mining that could be used to search for patterns in a context-dependent manner, and new techniques from the field of visual analytics to visualise and interact with data via a visual interface in a context-friendly manner.