Tag Archives: social complexity

Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years workshop, Kiel, Germany 2-24, March 2017

University of Kiel, Germany will be hosting a workshop “Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes IV” between 20-24th March 2017.   It includes several sessions on simulation, modelling and ABM with a special emphasis on socio-natural systems.  The abstract submission deadline is a still quite some time (30th November) but it may be worth putting the event into your calendars if you are not planning on crossing the ocean for the CAA in Atlanta or the SAAs in Vancouver.

For more information see the workshop website: http://www.workshop-gshdl.uni-kiel.de


Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiel#/media/File:Postcard_Panorama_of_Kiel_(1902).jpg

Urban Scaling, Superlinearity of Knowledge, and New Growth Economics

View of Mumbai, from http://www.worldpopulationstatistics.com

How far did they fly? …not very far at all, because they rose from one great city, fell to another. The distance between cities is always small; a villager, traveling a hundred miles to town, traverses emptier, darker, more terrifying space.” (Salman Rushdie The Satanic Verses p. 41)

Compelling recent work from folks at the Santa Fe Institute suggests that both modern and ancient cities follow similar growth patterns. As cities grow, and if they are regular in layout, it becomes easier to add roads, add parks, add public buildings. You no longer need to invest large amounts to build the infrastructure. It’s easier to add length on to existing roads than it is to create a new road altogether. This phenomenon is knows as increasing economies of scale. Bettencourt found that in modern cities, infrastructure and public spaces both scale to the population at an exponent of between 2/3 and 5/6. Ortman et al. found that the same exponent works to explain population growth and infrastructure in the prehispanic Valley of Mexico.

Okay, what does this mean? Ortman suggests that principals of human habitation are highly general, and that there may be an inherent process to settlement. What’s remarkable in this study is how parallel the growth processes are between ancient and modern cities. Would a modern Saladin Chamcha feel as at home not only in modern Mumbai and London, but also in medieval London or classic Teotihuacan? Is the distance between cities truly small, as Rushdie (via Chamcha’s character) suggests?

Maybe so. Cities, both teams argue, are social reactors. Cities amplify social interaction opportunities. We may expect that things like the number of patents awarded for new inventions would scale linearly with growth, but this isn’t so. It turns out that the number of patents scales superlinearly as do other measures of modern output. With more density comes more creativity.

Infrastructure scales sublinearly, and output scales superlinearly. The larger the city, the less has to be spent to create more infrastructure. The larger the city, the more we can expect to have more intellectual output, like increasing quantities patents.

And, to say it again, this is not true just of modern cities, but prehistoric ones as well.

This brings us to the question of GDP and new growth economics. It turns out that just measuring labor and output does not calculate GDP, but there is an additional, unknown factor, which economists call the A factor. That factor is knowledge. This superlinearity of output in cities, of things like invention and patents, is this that extra A-factor and do we see it rise superlinearly due to the density of networks in cities? And can we truly see prehistory and moderninty working in similar ways? It turns out it’s really difficult to measure the A-factor (economists have been trying for a while), but maybe we’re seeing the effects here.

Ortman et al. argue:

“all human settlements function in essentially the same way by manifesting strongly-interacting social networks in space, and that relative economies and returns to scale (elasticities in the language of economics) emerge from interactions among individuals within settlements as opposed to specific technological, political or economic factors” (Ortman et al. 2014, p. 7).

While Saladin Chamcha might not have been able to communicate with inhabitants in Teotihuacan, he would have felt at home. The city would have held similar structures to 1980s London—he could find a center, a market, a worship space, and those things would have scaled to the size of the population. As humans we build things in similar ways. Bettencourt and Ortman’s work is compelling and causes us to think about how our brains function, how we establish social networks, and what common processes there might be across humanity, both spatially and temporally.

To read Ortman et al.’s work, see this link in PLoS ONE

To see Bettencourt’s work, see this link in Science

This Year we all Go to Barcelona

In the tough world of Academia there is nothing better than a conference in a city boasting with vibrant research community and a beach. For archaeologists working with computational modelling Barcelona fits the bill nicely and this year no excuses are needed to visit this absolutely fantastic city. After the success of the ECCS2013 last September Barcelona seems to become the world capital for modelling social complexity with at least three major conferences scheduled for 2014.

European Social Simulation Association Meeting

The European Social Simulation Association  will hold its annual meeting  at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona between 1-5 September, 2014.  You can find more information about the conference here.

But more importantly, our colleagues from the SimulPast project are organising a satellite event Simulating the past to understand human history. Although the conference is aimed at showcasing the achievements of the SimulPast project, the wide range of topics indicated by the organisers shows that we can expect a good set of interesting papers dealing with different aspects of modelling and complexity science applications in archaeology.

Finally, the conference is worth a trip even if only for the keynote speakers.  Timothy A. Kohler (Washington State University) is known from his Village Ecodynamics Project and, probably by all students thanks to his classic paper “Complex Systems and Archaeology” in Ian Hodder’s Archaeological Theory Today.  And we can only hope that someone will ask  Joshua M. Epstein (Johns Hopkins University) – the second keynote speaker  – his trademark question ‘Why model?

The Call for Papers closes this Thursday ( 28th, February, 2014).  According to the CfP the organisers look for a wide range of papers diverse in both archaeological but also methodological scope: Applications are welcomed on all subjects (from Anthropology, Archaeology, Geography and History) using different approaches to social simulation and presenting case studies from any region of the world and any prehistoric or historic period. Theoretical aspects of social and cultural evolution are also encouraged.

Coincidentally, at the same time (1-7 September) Burgos will be hosting the XVII Congress of the International Union of the Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP). You can find the list of session here.

European Conference on Social Networks

The second complexity science conference held this year in Barcelona is the 1st European Conference on Social Networks between 1-4, July, 2014. They haven’t opened their CfP yet so only preliminary information are available on their website but it looks as if it was going to have a strong archaeological twist.

SocInfo 2014

Finally, the 6th International Conference on Social Informatics, although focused more on present rather than past human societies, may also be of interest to many, especially in light of the conference mission statement: This year’s special purpose of the conference is to to bridge the gap between the social sciences and computer science. We see the challenges of this as at least twofold. (..)  emphasis on the methodology needed in the field of computational social science to reach long-term research objectives. We envision SocInfo as a venue that attracts open minded researchers who relax the methodological boundaries between informatics and social sciences so to identify common tools, research questions, and goals. SocInfo will be  held in Barcelona between 10-13 November 2014.