Thursday, December 02, 2021

Urban life: A model of people and places

We have just wrapped up project that created a simple agent-based simulation of urban life as part of DARPA's Ground Truth Program. To this end we have just published a  new paper entitled "Urban life: a model of people and places" published in Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, with Andreas Züfle, Carola Wenk, Dieter Pfoser, Joon-Seok Kim, Hamdi Kavak, Umar Manzoor, Hyunjee Jin  and myself. In the paper we provide an overview of the model and how it was used to test and validate human domain research. For interested readers, below you can find the abstract  to the paper along with some images that will give you a sense of our simulation model (which for interested readers was created with MASON and its GIS extension (GeoMason). While at the bottom of the post you can find the full reference and a link to the paper. 


We introduce the Urban Life agent-based simulation used by the Ground Truth program to capture the innate needs of a human-like population and explore how such needs shape social constructs such as friendship and wealth. Urban Life is a spatially explicit model to explore how urban form impacts agents’ daily patterns of life. By meeting up at places agents form social networks, which in turn affect the places the agents visit. In our model, location and co-location affect all levels of decision making as agents prefer to visit nearby places. Co-location is necessary (but not sufficient) to connect agents in the social network. The Urban Life model was used in the Ground Truth program as a virtual world testbed to produce data in a setting in which the underlying ground truth was explicitly known. Data was provided to research teams to test and validate Human Domain research methods to an extent previously impossible. This paper summarizes our Urban Life model’s design and simulation along with a description of how it was used to test the ability of Human Domain research teams to predict future states and to prescribe changes to the simulation to achieve desired outcomes in our simulated world.

Our generated maps colored based on different aggregation levels.

A screenshot of the graphical user interface from a representative model run. Top-Left: The spatial network and agents. Bottom left: Simulation parameters that can be specified prior to simulation start. Top-middle: the social network. Bottom-middle: Summary statistics of the simulation during tun-time such as friendship. Right: Profiles of recreational sites.

Screenshot of the epidemic simulator depicting the French Quarter, New Orleans, LA, USA.

Full Reference:

Züfle, A., Wenk, C., Pfoser, D., Crooks, A.T., Kavak, H., Kim, J-S. and Jin, H. (2021), Urban Life: A Model of People and Places, Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory. Available at (pdf)

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