Department of Computational Social Science Seminar Abstract

Friday, August 31 - 3:00 p.m.
Center for Social Complexity Suite
3rd Floor, Research Hall

Simulating Society circa 1985

Robert Axtell, Chair
Department of Computational Social Science
George Mason University

ABSTRACT: The October 1985 issue of "Byte" magazine was themed "Simulating Society." The eight articles present an interesting cross-section of how certain social and computer scientists did their work in that era, nearly 30 years ago. Some of the domains modeled remain quite topical--epidemics and international relations, for example--and other papers discuss methodological issues, including problems that continue to plague us today, e.g., overfitting, and how to test large-scale simulations. While it is fair to say that "Byte" was not a leading outlet for academic computational social science, such as it was, in the mid 1980s, the magazine was a hotbed of the microcomputer revolution that was underway, with its DIY ethos and 'bottom up'/garage/start-up mentality. In this talk I will highlight several interesting features of the models described in these articles, will try to estimate the increase in hardware capability we have experienced since then (e.g., a 10MB hard drive ran about $400 and 64K of RAM cost $350), compare the software environments in play at that time to what we have today, and generally assess what technological progress has wrought. I will then speculate as to what computational social scientists will think, 30 years hence, of our efforts today...