Necessity of ABMs?

Agent-based models are an interesting concept, with much potential, and as O’Sullivan describes, many limitations.  As exciting as they are, they have not gained the popularity in geography one may have expected, either.  Several reasons for this stood out to me amid the papers and class discussion.

First, agent-based models of increasing complexity are expensive, but if we want them to put out detailed results, they require this commitment of time and money to collect and input extensive amounts of data.  How many companies can afford the required commitment?

Second, as O’Sullivan mentioned, ABMs “frequently violate one of the most common tenets of practical science, the imperative to prefer simplicity over elaboration”.  This, combined with the fact that complex results can sometimes be just as hard to fathom as the complex data entered into the models, can be off-putting.

Third, and I would argue, most relevant, is the current availability of real-time data.  In class, we discussed how a lot of the results ABMs are attempting to discover can currently be monitored in real-time.  If we can have access to real people outputting results, as opposed to agents endowed with real qualities, why would we not choose the former?  Surely they can best model the complexities and counter-intuitive nature of real life?

All that being said, ABMs seem incredibly exciting, and an interesting way to model problems that we don’t have answers and data for already.  With continued improvements into the future, they seem like a technology to watch, maybe for emergence in unexpected ways.


O’Sullivan, David. “Geographical Information Science: Agent-Based Models.” Progress in Human Geography. 32.4 (2008): 541-550. Print.

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