Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Suasn Stepney
Francis Fukuyama
Alan Dorin

Joshua M Epstein and Robert Axtell

Growing artificial societies

Doing experiments in the social sciences isn't easy - you can hardly meddle with a society just to see what happens. But it's possible to create computer models of societies, to see which features lead to realistic societies. This is what Joshua M. Epstein and Robert Axtell have done with their Sugarscape model, and Growing Artificial Societies is a report of some of the things they have observed. The model starts with a landscape in which sugar grows, with agents who roam about collecting sugar which they need to live. Even with such a simple model is it possible to see featues such as migration and uneven wealth distribution.

The model is then extended in various ways, for instance giving the agents various properties which can be passed on to offspring via sexual reproduction. Introduction of another commodoty, spice, allows the possibility of trade, an the authors point out the importance of local interactions, as distinct from believing that there must be a global equilibrium price. Introduction of disease to the model shows the advantages of such a cellular automaton based model, as distinct from models based on differential equations. In the last chapter the authors show what can be seen by putting eveything together, showing that such a model can be an invaluable tool in the social sciences, in particular in showing the links between different fields. There is a CD-ROM to go with the book, and it would be good to see some of the examples, but there is no problem with reading the book on its own. (Some parts of the Sugarscape model can also be found on the internet). I'd recommend this book to anyone wanting to see this new way of approaching the social sciences, as well as to those interested in the programming side of such models. info
Paperback 224 pages  
ISBN: 0262550253
Salesrank: 869823
Published: 1996 A Bradford Book
Amazon price $30.38
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Paperback 226 pages  
ISBN: 0262550253
Salesrank: 312644
Weight:0.97 lbs
Published: 1996 Perseus (for Brookings)
Amazon price £21.40
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Paperback 228 pages  
ISBN: 0262550253
Salesrank: 611324
Weight:0.97 lbs
Published: 1996 Brookings Institution Press
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Marketplace:New from CDN$ 26.95:Used from CDN$ 31.44
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Product Description

How do social structures and group behaviors arise from the interaction of individuals? Growing Artificial Societies approaches this question with cutting-edge computer simulation techniques. Fundamental collective behaviors such as group formation, cultural transmission, combat, and trade are seen to "emerge" from the interaction of individual agents following a few simple rules.

In their program, named Sugarscape, Epstein and Axtell begin the development of a "bottom up" social science that is capturing the attention of researchers and commentators alike.

The study is part of the 2050 Project, a joint venture of the Santa Fe Institute, the World Resources Institute, and the Brookings Institution. The project is an international effort to identify conditions for a sustainable global system in the next century and to design policies to help achieve such a system.

Copublished with the Brookings Institution