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Epstein & Axtell – Growing artificial societies

Growing Artificial Societies is a groundbreaking book that posits a new mechanism for studying populations and their evolution. By combining the disciplines of cellular automata and “artificial life”, Joshua M. Epstein and Robert Axtell have developed a mechanism for simulating all sorts of emergent behavior within a grid of cells managed by a computer. In their simulations, simple rules governing individuals’ “genetics”” and their competition for foodstuffs result in highly complex societal behaviors. Epstein and Axtell explore the role of seasonal migrations, pollution, sexual reproduction, combat, and transmission of disease or even “culture” within their artificial world, using these results to draw fascinating parallels with real- world societies. In their simulation, for instance, allowing the members to “trade” increases overall well-being but also increases economic inequality. In Growing Artificial Societies, the authors provide a workable framework for studying social processes in microcosm, a thoroughly fascinating accomplishment.