Duke Forest Conference 2016
Economics in the Era of Natural Computationalism and Big Data
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the
“Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata” (by John von Neumann)
Hilton Garden, Durham, North Carolina, Nov 11-13, 2016

Robert Axtell

Title: Is Agent Computing the New Calculus for Social Interactions?


In ``Games and Economic Behavior" von Neumann and Morganstern famously wrote that ``[m]athematical discoveries of a stature comparable to that of the calculus will be needed in order to produce decisive progress in [game theory]." One of these men was a great mathematician while the other a noted mathematical economist. Soon after writing the founding volume of game theory, and before von Neumann's work on cellular automata, they each worked on digital computing. Given the machines of the day it was natural to conceive of computation as a way to solve equations. Today we use agent computing in a fashion that abstracts from the explicit solution of equations. Is it possible that the new discovery the von Neumann sought for game theory was, in some sense, right under his nose - the digital computer--but that he did not have either the right hardware or software to see such a solution? This and related questions will be examined in this talk.

Short bio:

Rob Axtell is Professor of Economics and of Computational Social Science at George Mason University, and a member of the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. He is Co-Director of the new Computational Public Policy Lab at Mason and External Faculty Member at both Northwestern University's Institute on Complex Systems and the University of Waterloo's Institute for Complexity and Innovation. Previously he was a Senior Fellow in the Economic Studies and Governance Studies programs at the Brookings Institution. He has been Visiting Professor in the Complexity Economics Programme at the University of Oxford, Mellon Visiting Distinguished Professor at Middlebury College, and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University. His research involves agent-based computational models of social phenomena. His book Growing Artificial Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up, (MIT Press, 1996), co-authored with J.M. Epstein, is widely cited as an early statement of the potential of multi-agent systems to represent social processes. His research has appeared in leading general interest scientific journals (e.g., Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, PLOS One), disciplinary journals (e.g., American Economic Review, Economic Journal, Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, Journal of Regulatory Economics), and has been reprised in the popular science press (e.g., Nature, Scientific American, Science News, New Scientist, Discover, Technology Review), in newspapers and magazines (e.g., Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker) and in a museum installation. His current research involves the creation of entire artificial economies consisting of 100s of millions of agents.