Thursday, August 25, 2016

Call for Papers - Symposium on Human Dynamics in Smart and Connected Communities: Agents - the ‘atomic unit’ of social systems?

Call for Papers - Symposium on Human Dynamics in Smart and Connected Communities: Agents - the ‘atomic unit’ of social systems?

We welcome paper submissions for our session(s) at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting on 5-9 April, 2017, in Boston.

Session Description:

By defining a social system as a collection of agents, individuals and their behaviors/decisions become the driving force of these systems. Complex global phenomena such as collective behaviors, extensive spatial patterns, and hierarchies are manifested through agent interaction in such a way that the actions of the parts do not simply sum to the activity of the whole. This allows unique perspectives into the inner workings of social systems, making agent-based modelling (ABM) a powerful and appealing tool for understanding the drivers of these systems and how they may change in the future.

What is noticeable from recent applications of ABM is the increase in complexity (richness and detail) of the agents, a factor made possible through new data sources and increased computational power. While there has always been ‘resistance’ to the notion that social scientists should search for some ‘atomic element or unit’ of representation that characterizes the geography of a place, the shift from aggregate to individual mark agents as a clear contender to fulfill the role of ‘atom’ in social simulation modelling. However, there are a number of methodological challenges that need to be addressed if ABM is to fully realize its potential and be recognized as a powerful tool for policy modelling in key societal issues. Most pressing are methods to accurately identify, represent, and evaluate key behaviors and their drivers in ABM.

We invite any papers that contribute towards this wide discussion ranging from epistemological perspectives of the place of ABM, extracting behavior from novel and established data sets to new, intriguing applications to establishing robustness in calibrating and validating ABMs.

Please e-mail the abstract and key words with your expression of intent to Andrew Crooks ( by 22nd October, 2016 (one week before the AAG session deadline). Please make sure that your abstract conforms to the AAG guidelines in relation to title, word limit and key words and as specified at:
An abstract should be no more than 250 words that describe the presentation’s purpose, methods, and conclusions.

Timeline summary:
  • 20th October, 2016: Abstract submission deadline. E-mail Andrew Crooks by this date if you are interested in being in this session. Please submit an abstract and key words with your expression of intent.
  • 24th October, 2016: Session finalization and author notification
  • 26th October, 2016: Final abstract submission to AAG, via All participants must register individually via this site. Upon registration you will be given a participant number (PIN). Send the PIN and a copy of your final abstract to Andrew Crooks. Neither the organizers nor the AAG will edit the abstracts.
  • 27th October, 2016: AAG registration deadline. Sessions submitted to AAG for approval.
  • 5-9th April, 2017: AAG Annual Meeting.

  • Andrew Crooks, Department of Computational and Data Sciences, George Mason University.
  • Alison Heppenstall, School of Geography, University of Leeds.
  • Nick Malleson, School of Geography, University of Leeds
  • Paul Torrens, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Tandon School of Engineering, New York University.
  • Sarah Wise, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer Projects

Over the summer, Arie Croitoru and myself took part in the George Mason University Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program. We worked with three very talented high-school students who over the course of the seven and a half week program produced some excellent research around the areas of agent-based modeling and social media analysis. An overview of their work can be seen in the posters and abstracts that the students produced at the end of the internship.

Lawrence Wang explored how social media could be used with respect to predicting election results under a project entitled "And the Winner Is? Predicting Election Results using Social Media". Below you can read Lawrence's abstract and see his poster.

"The 2012 U.S. presidential election demonstrated how Twitter can serve as a widely accessible forum of political discourse. Recently, researchers have investigated whether social media, particularly Twitter, can function as a predictive tool. In the past decade, multiple studies have claimed to successfully predict the results of elections using Twitter data. However, many of these studies fail to account for the inherent population bias present in Twitter data, leading to ungeneralizable results. In this project, I investigate the prospects of using Twitter data as an alternative to poll data for predicting the 2012 presidential election. The tweet corpus consisted of tweets published one month before the November election day. Using VADER, a sentiment analysis tool, I analyzed over 140,000 tweets for political sentiment. I attempted to circumvent the Twitter population bias by comparing age, race, and gender metrics of the Twitter population with that of the U.S. population. Furthermore, I utilized Bayesian inference with prior distributions from the results of the 2008 presidential election in order to mitigate the effects of limited tweet data in certain states. The resulting model correctly predicted the likely outcomes of 46 of the 50 states and predicted that President Obama would be reelected with a probability of 0.945. Such a model could be used to explore the forthcoming elections. " 

In a second project, Varun Talwar, explored how knowledge bases could be utilized to better contextualize social media discussions with a project entitled "Context Graphs: A Knowledge-Driven Model for Contextualizing Twitter Discourse." Below you can read Varun's project abstract and his end of project poster.

"Introduction: User posted content through online social media (SM) platforms in recent years has emerged as a rich field for narrative analysis of topics captured during the discussion discourse. In particular, collective discourse has been used to manually contextualize public perception of health related events.

Objective: As SM feeds tend to be noisy, automated detection of the context of a given SM discourse stream has proven to be a challenging task. The primary objective of this research is to explore how existing knowledge bases could be utilized to better contextualize SM discussions through topic modeling and mining. By utilizing such existing knowledge it would then be possible to explore to what extent a given discourse is related to a known or a new context, as well as compare and contrast SM discussions through their respective contexts.

Methods: In order to accomplish these goals this research proposes a novel approach for contextualizing SM discourse. In this approach, topic modeling is combined with a knowledgebase in a two-step process. First, key topics are extracted from a SM data corpus by applying a statistical topic-modeling algorithm, a process that also results in data dimensionality reduction. Once a set of salient topics are extracted, each topic is then used to mine the knowledge base for sub graphs that represent the contextual linkages between knowledge elements. Such sub-graphs can then further disambiguate the topic modeling results, and be utilized for qualifying context similarity across SM discussions.

Results: The time-series analysis of the Twitter discourse via graph-matching algorithms reveals the change in topics as evidenced by the emergence of the terms “pregnancy” and “abortion” as information about the virus propagated through the Twitter community. "

Elizabeth Hu explored the current migration crisis in Europe in a project entitled "Across the Sea: A Novel Agent-Based Model for the Migratory Patterns of the European Refugee Crisis". Below is Elizabeth's abstract, poster and an example model run.

"Since 2010, a growing number of refugees have sought asylum in European nations, fleeing violence and military conflict in their home countries. Most of the refugees originate from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and African nations. The vast majority of refugees risk their lives in the popular yet perilous Mediterranean Sea Route often prone to boat accidents and subsequent deaths of migrants.  The flow of millions of refugees has introduced a humanitarian crisis not seen since World War II. European nations are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees through various border policies.

In order to explore this crisis, a geographically explicit agent-based model has been developed to study the past and future patterns of refugee flows. Traditional migration models, which represent the population as an aggregate, fail to consider individual decision-making processes based on personal status and intervening opportunities. However, the novel agent-based model developed here of migration allows population behavior to emerge as the result of individual decisions. Initial population, city, and route attributes are based upon data from the UNHCR, EU agencies, crowd-sourced databases, and news articles. The agents, refugees, select goal destinations in accordance with the Law of Intervening Opportunities. Thus, goals are prone to change with fluctuating personal needs. Agents choose routes not only based on distance, but also other relevant route attributes. The resulting migration flows generated by the model under various circumstances could provide crucial guidance for policy and humanitarian aid decisions."

The movie below gives a sense of the migration paths the refugees are taking.