Open Source Agent-Based Modeling Toolkits



Brief introduction and tutorial for building fine-grained agent-based models (ABMs) using open-source modeling toolkits like Swarm, RePast, MASON, etc.


Modeling and simulation (M&S) tools are often proprietary, which presents some significant reproducibility issues. For standard operations research or mathematical models, where the industry is relatively mature, canonical model descriptions are plentiful and easy to access. So, proprietary tools only inhibit the reproducibility (and heuristic value) to the extent that they cost money or require a particular platform (e.g. Windows).

However, a somewhat novel form of M&S designed to study Complex Adaptive Systems emerged from the techniques developed by the “computationalists” (the grandfathers being Turing and von Neumann). Fine-grained Agent-Based Modeling attempts to provide methods for instantiating hypothetical mechanisms (“generators”) into a computer program, executing the program, and observing the resulting phenomena in order to provide descriptions of referent systems with significant heuristic value. (This is in contrast to the analytic or mathematical models that emphasize predictive over heuristic value.)

One trouble with fine-grained ABMs are their complicatedness. It is difficult or impossible to validate or falsify many of these models because they are full of nitty-gritty detail. Even worse, it is often difficult or impossible to reproduce the results obtained from such a model because, by definition, CAS models are sensitive to the nitty-gritty detail. Hence, the abstract, often prosaic, description provided by the modeler usually doesn’t capture enough detail for the model to be reproduced by other researchers.

And often, that detail can depend on the technology stack used to implement a model. Hence, if any part of that stack is proprietary, it prevents full disclosure of the nitty-gritty computation used.

Using an open-source tech stack can be critical to the heuristic value of an ABM.

This session will present a few open-source modeling toolkits and present the basics of how to build an ABM in one or more of those toolkits.

Speaking experience


  • Me 2009 02 02 2

    glen ropella

    Tempus Dictum, Inc.


    8 years at military contractor.
    1.5 years at Santa Fe Instittue.
    4 years at SwarmCorp.
    2 years at 2 dot-coms.
    8 years at Tempus Dictum, Inc.