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The Prospects and Perils of Complex Systems Modeling - 58:59 - Dec 4, 2006

Computational Science and Engineering, UC Davis - cse.ucdavis.edu/academics/seminars/2005lawr

Scientists have studied complex systems for centuries, but only the relatively recent invention of electronic computers and subsequent dramatic increases in computing power have allowed the detailed simulation of such systems as food webs, financial markets, the immune system, and human societies. Such computational models have the potential to address questions whose study has not been accessible via more traditional mathematical and experimental techniques. However, this new approach to scientific inquiry comes with its own problems and potential pitfalls, including hidden assumptions, non-replicability of behavior, and misinterpretation of and over-reliance on results. In this talk I will review several prominent complex-systems models as examples of the prospects and perils of such modeling techniques. These examples will range from explorations of the simplest cellular automata to detailed "agent-based" simulations of food webs, economic systems, and human behavior. My hope is that an analysis of this kind will interest, assist, and possibly surprise people who are currently involved in modeling or who would like to be

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