Over the years I have been involved in all kinds of research. I'm schooled as a population biologist (e.g. ecosystem assessment of wetlands) and as an ethologist (e.g. abnormal sterotyped behaviours in tethered sows). Later I have been involved in information systems and decision support systems (my PhD, 'Modesty in Modelling' 1992, was about designing support for production planning of potted plant growers). I still teach in subjects such as database design and supply chain management. From the mid-nineties on I started to create simulation games using Geerts work on culture. This led to my current involvement in culture-related work with people from many different disciplines, who ask me to help them with the cultural aspects of what they are doing. But I also have my specialties and will talk about these now.
With many others, I am involved in research to create artificial human groups and societies in which the participants - usually called 'agents' have culture. It is a fascinating but very tricky issue. We are still far removed from the situation where you could watch our simulations and wonder whether this was real.
Others - e.g. game developers - have made amazing movement and graphic interfaces. What we are looking for is believable social behaviour, empathy, emotions, credible moral circle dynamics. So the agents need a social memory, they need culture, and they need social norms about the simulated situations.
On these pages I'll summarize progress. Current and recent projects are www.semira.wur.nl and www.ecute.eu. Right now I am reading up on eminent social scientists (e.g. Brown, Coleman, Hofstede, Kemper, Searle...), whose work should be usable for creating models of social reality. Each of these authors can have something that we can use.
With Frank Dignum and Rui Prada I have obtained a Nias-Lorent theme group grant 'Modelling social reality' to work on these matters in fall 2013. We shall try to create models of social reality that can deal with the case of groups of children playing, and with emergent phenomena in this play that could pave the way for the glass ceiling for women that occurs in many societies. Such models will require the kind of 'big social theory' mentioned above. The grant involves a Lorentz Workshop to be held 13-18 January 2014.
With Elisabeth André, Ruth Aylett and Ana Paiva, I am organizing a seminar on computational models of culture for human-agent interaction. The seminar will be held from 23 to 28 of March, 2014, in Schloss Dagstuhl, Germany.
A crucially important notion in my research is emergence. Emergence occurs at the level of a whole when it is more than the sum of its parts. For instance, you are more than the sum or your body's cells, since you have a memory, a personality, an age... These are emergent attributes of you.
Or consider the two figures below. They have exactly the same number and types of elements, but only one has the emergent property of depicting the Vienna Underground system.
|Wiener U-Bahn Linien (by Ursus Wehrli - "Kunstaufraümen" - it takes a Swiss to think of this)||Wiener U-Bahn Netzplan|
In a similar vein, a people has emergent properties, such as its history or its culture.
A very promising way of studying emergence is through agent-based (also called individual-based) modelling. Just by giving groups of agents simple rules of behaviour and a simple environment, emergent behaviour of amazing complexity can arise. See e.g. the work on DomWorld by Charlotte Hemelrijk and others: did you think that a spatial configuration of a population of macaques could emerge without giving the artificial monkeys any spatial intelligence, but just by varying the fierceness with which they attack one another? Or that the very same trait of fiercer fighting can lead to more females becoming dominant, both in the artificial monkeys and in macaques? I am convinced that there are parallels in humans, and that the study of emergence in human societies has great potential. A proposal by me for a NIAS-Lorentz Theme Group named 'Emergence of the glass ceiling', together with Frank Dignum and Ana Paiva, has been granted for fall 2013.
For all kinds of other social simulations, see the work published in JASSS.
Here is some work in which I am involved. A small selection of interesting papers in this area about actual implemented agent-based models:
- Computational Modelling of Culture's consequences (2011), with Catholijn Jonker and Tim Verwaart. This is one of the final ones in a series of papers that Tim Verwaart worked on for his PhD thesis. He models agents that negotiate a trade deal in which cheating and tracing cheats are possible; and these agents have cultures à la Hofstede.
- Agent-based modelling of consumer decision process Based on power distance and personality (2011), With Omid Roozmand and others. Omid, for his PhD, wanted to model consumer decision making across societies. He succeeded in creating credible agents that reproduce the car-purchasing behaviour that was empirically found in a number of countries.
Conceptual papers that try to pinpoint concepts to be used in developing models of human social behaviour:
- When agents meet: empathy, moral circle, ritual and culture (2012), with partners from projects eCute and Semira. This is about how the concept of Moral circle can be used in modelling embodies social agents. We are working on implementing these ideas.
- Linking Norms and Culture (2011), with partners from the project semira. This about "meta-norms", general tendencies to behave in certain ways that are not unlike the Hofstede culture dimensions, but instantiated as to relational context - for instance, being more likely to punish an offender than to forgive.
- Modelling rituals for Homo biologicus (2011), a paper presented at ESSA (Conference of the European Social Simulation Association) 2011. This about how to deal with shared attention of a group of agents.
This is work in progress. More is to come! Other papers with me in them, about related topics, can be found in Google scholar.