Review of ‘Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation’, OR Essentials

Book review to be published in The Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS)

Taylor, Simon J. E. (Ed.) (2014) Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation, OR Society and Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke

 

Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation is the first in the Operational Research Society’s OR Essentials series.   OR Essentials brings together multidisicpinary research from the management, decision, and computer sciences.  This edition within the series is edited by Simon Taylor, who is co-founder of the Journal of Simulation, also published by the OR Society.

The edited book is divided into 14 chapters, and the bulk of its contents convers the application of agent based modelling (ABM) to specific problem domains.  The book adds to this by introducing agent-based modelling as a technique, and setting it in context with other simulation approaches.  A very helpful chapter by Macal and North of Argonne National Laboratory offers a tutorial on what agent-based modelling is, focusing on the autonomy and interconnectedness of agents, and showing how agent-based models should be built.  The book ends with thoughtful chapters on a testing framework for ABM (Gürcan,  Dikenelli, Bernon), and a comparison with discrete-event simulation by Brailsford, elegantly closing the package opened by Taylor’s introduction comparing ABM with system dynamics and discrete event simulation within the context of modelling and simulation more generally.

The academic rigour of the book is confirmed by each article being reprinted from published articles from the Journal of Simulation.  The book brings together several excellent examples of agent-based modelling, together with a very clear understanding of how ABM fits in with more traditional simulation techniques such as DES (Discrete Event Simulation) and SD (System Dynamics) –  both Talyor and Brailsford show how and when ABM should be used.  Macal and North offer a very useful tutorial for understanding the building blocks of an ABM simulation, while Heath and Hill show ABM’s evolution from cellular automata and complexity science through complex adaptive systems.

Domain specific chapters cover applications in the management of hospital-acquired infection (Meng, Davies, Hardy, and Hawkey); product diffusion of a novel biomass fuel (Günther, Stummer, Wakolbinger, Wildpaner); urban evacuation (Chen, Zhan); people management (Siebers, Aickelin, Celia, Clegg); pharmaceutical supply chains (Jetly, Rossetti, Handfield); workflow scheduling (Merdan, Moser, Sunindyo, Biffl, Vrba); credit risk (Jonsson); and historical infantry tactics (Rubio-Campillo, Cela, Cardona).

Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation offers a very useful collection of applications of ABM, and showcases how ABM can be successfully incorporated in to mainstream, published research.  The contributions to the book are diverse, and from internationally regarded scholars.  It is also useful to see the diverse ways that agent-based modelling research is presented, from some papers that show code, some that show running models, and some that do not show the model or code but instead describe results.

The glue that binds the book is methodological.  Seeing how ABM has been used in diverse application areas is important, given the trans-disciplinary nature of the approach.  It is an excellent introduction into agent-based modelling within a wide range of business and operations applications, and should be read by scholars and practitioners alike.

Journals for Analytical Strategic Management: Which Journals Should I Search?

For new scholars, or for practitioners interested in learning about strategic management, it can be difficult to know where to start.  The following is a list of the key journals in strategy together with some thoughts on their particular strengths.

Strategic Management Journal – perhaps the premier journal within strategic management.  This mainly uses statistical modelling to test hypotheses, although is open to other approaches.

 

Management Science – a very good journal, but one that covers many areas of management, and therefore can only devote a small number of articles to strategy papers.

 

Strategy Science – a new journal that combines the best of the above journals – and provides analytical approaches to strategy problems.

Agent-Based Models of A Banking Network

Agent-Based Models of a Banking Network as an Example of a Turbulent Environment: The Deliberate vs Emergent Strategy Debate Revisited is a paper that I wrote that uses an agent-based model to simulate the strategic positioning decisions of firms within a competitive environment.  It links firm strategy (particularly banking strategy) to the competitive environment: where should firms locate to gain most customers given that all firms are trying to achieve the same objective, that of maximizing market share / revenue / profits?  It is an interesting question, and one that is very suited to modelling the dynamics of an industry using agent-based models.

EPSRC Associate Peer Review College

I have been invited to become a member of the EPSRC Associate Peer Review College.

The EPSRC has a budget of £0.8 billion, which it uses to fund research in engineering and the physical sciences.

These research grants are awarded on a competitive basis, and a pool of reviewers decide on which proposals should be funded.  The process should be an interesting one, particularly for keeping up to date and influencing priority research areas for UK science and engineering.

 

ADD – Addis Ababa: The Yellow and Green of Development

14311199_10101720993257879_98756789663023947_o-1Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, is undergoing a development revolution.  In common with much of Africa, Chinese-funded development is changing the city.  Everywhere you look, the green and yellow hoardings show which blocks are 14372044_10101720993512369_5735790636051623343_obeing developed or are about to be so.

I last visited Addis four years ago in 2012, and the changes are clear.  There is a new metro, run by Schenzen metro (and using their logo) opened in 2015, there 14310445_10101720994565259_9120893785537070562_ois a new railway to Djibouti, and signs to a new Ethio-China Friendship Square in the heart of the city.

Things are changing – fast, and Ethiopia, with its excellent national airline, is a fascinating country to watch.

Why do the Roads at London’s Heathrow Airport have strange names?

If you have ever driven around Heathrow Airport in London, you may have noticed that the road names have an interesting pattern.

Roads in the central area – such as Croydon Road, Cambourne Crescent all begin with ‘C’; roads near Terminal 5 – such as Walrus Road, Wayfarer Road all begin with ‘W’; roads near Terminal 4 – Stratford Road, Salisbury Road all begin with ‘S’, while roads to the north of the terminals all begin with ‘N’ and roads to the East all begin with ‘E’.lhr-centrallhr-west

An obvious pattern when you see it – the reason being that Heathrow has five Rendezvous Points – RVPs – central, east, west, north, and south.  If a plane were to come down on Wayfarer Road, the emergency services would immediately be sent to RVP West.  You can see the importance of the RVP system in the following fascinating ATC video from the British Airways crash on runway 27L – and the air traffic controller declaring ‘the Rendezvous point is SOUTH’ just after the 1 minute mark.

rvp

You may have seen the green RVP (N/E/S/W/C) signs near UK airports.  And that’s what they are for.

Parkrun Freedom of Information Act Release: Public Policy Gone Bad

Parkrun is an organization that coordinates a series of 5km runs for the public.  Crucially, there is no charge for participating in these runs, and this has contributed to over 1 million people registering themselves as runners.  It does good, doesn’t take a profit, and generally is regarded as a Good Thing.

Generally, the locations at which these runs take place are happy for the exposure, and local restaurants, coffee shops and pubs are also happy for the passing trade caused by the events.

However, this all changed earlier in the year when Stoke Gifford Parish Council decided to charge for the event.  Quite what the grounds were for the charge were unclear, but the Council have now disclosed to me the grounds for their action.  It is worth noting that the Council did not comply with section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, nor to a first reminder issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The released documents are here.  I have redacted personal email addresses and phone numbers that were included in the documents.  Despite asking for all information, the Council stated: ‘Please note the majority of e-mail communication received was from Parkrun runners personal e-mail addresses, and will therefore not be published.’

The case boils down to a matter of national vs local public policy: the UK government want people to get moving, and the parish council don’t want to pay for it (or rather, want to be paid for it).

Parkrun set out (through their lawyers) the legal basis for their case.  Oddly, the Parish Council does not appear to have disclosed their reply (if any) to the lawyers.  It is good to see letters from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and from the local MP.

The Parish Council set out what at first glance appears to be a rather odd justification of charging under section 19 of the Local Government Act 1976 (which, incidentally, is an act of Parliament of Malaysia – presumably they (the Secretary of State and the Parish Council) mean the Local Government Act (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976): that as the runners run on a cycle track, and as such this gives them a right to charge for this (para 19b); or premises for the use of clubs or societies having athletic, social, or recreational objects (para 19d); or facilities in connection with any other recrational facilities (ps who writes this stuff?) (para 19f).

Pretty weak justifications in my view.  Particularly when HM Secretary of State gives you a pretty big hint that you are out of order.

Parkrun’s lawyers suggest that they may request a judicial review of the decision.  And maybe this would be a good time for Parkrun runners to fund such a review.  Not just for this case, but for the general principle of local authorities’ interests vs. the national interest.

 

The Curious Case of #TrainGate

Jeremy Corbyn, the current leader of the Labour Party in the UK, took a train and did/did not sit down.  Or rather did/did not sit down on a comfy chair.

Now, for most of us, that would not be much of a story, but tonight it is the most read story on the BBC website.

And it all comes down to these images:

Virgin press officJC045 - pixilated redactede caption: CCTV footage shows Mr Corbyn returning to Coach H and sitting down at 11.43am, shortly after being filmed while sat on the floor and more than 2hrs before his final destination, Newcastle (I have removed images of other passengers)

 

Virgin press office caption: CCTJC016 - VTEC#12316 Camera 3#11-08-2016 10_11_37.38 redactedV footage shows Mr Corbyn walking past reserved but empty seats at 11.08am in Coach F (I have removed images of other passengers).

Anyway, the crux of it is that the Labour party implies there were no seats, and Virgin trains implies there were.  The interesting thing is that CCTV images were released into the public domain, and the (presumably) commercial thoughts that went into that decision.

Virgin Trains Privacy Policy

Is here.  And I doubt anyone has read it.  I mean, who decides which train to catch on the basis of a privacy policy?

Anyway, there’s a whole section on CCTV.  The only relevant bit seems to be ‘In certain circumstances we may need to disclose CCTV images for legal reasons.’  A bit weak for disclosing the images on their website to the whole world.  But, some clever privacy person has added:

‘We employ CCTV on our trains and in our stations in order to:

  • prevent, deter and detect crime
  • apprehend and prosecute offenders, and provide evidence to take civil action in the courts
  • help provide a safer environment for our staff
  • protect public safety
  • help to provide improved customer service, for example by enabling staff to see customers requiring assistance
  • monitor operational and safety related incidents
  • assist with the verification of claims.’

More on that later.

The Information Commissioner

The Information Commissioner’s Data protection code of practice for surveillance cameras and personal information sets out that ‘Disclosure of information from surveillance systems must be controlled and consistent with the purpose(s) for which the system was established.’.

‘The method of disclosing information should be secure to ensure they are only seen by the intended recipient.’

Now, you could argue that Virgin intended the recipient to be the whole world.  And that the system was established to assist with the verification of claims.

And there are no criminal issues: the Crown Prosecution Service is only interested if you obtain data without the consent of the data controller.  (Virgin are the data controller, and released the data, so that doesn’t work.)  Or if they sell personal data.  (They didn’t – they gave it away for free.)

The Moral of the Story

Read those privacy policies.  And don’t make a claim against Virgin Trains.  Otherwise you may find yourself on the pages of the tabloid newspapers.


Update 24 August 2016: The Guardian reports that the Information Commissioner is investigating whether the release of CCTV images by Virgin Trains breaches the Act.  Interestingly, they do not say that they did – and it all comes down to interpretation of the Rules.  Given that the bold paragraph is in Virgin’s privacy policy, it will be interesting to see whether this is enough to not be caught by the Rules.  Watch this space, and in the meantime, the EU General Data Protection Regulation is soon to be upon us (at least for the time in which the UK is part of the EU).  With penalties of 4% of worldwide turnover, it would be interesting to see if such a PR gamble would take place under the new regime.

Building the Multiplex: An Agent-Based Model of Formal and Informal Network Relations

EURO Conference 2016 PoznanThis presentation from the EURO 2016 conference in Poznan, Poland, and from the GDN conference in Bellingham, WA, USA, joint work with Leroy White of Warwick Business School, shows how combining formal and informal organizational networks enables decisions to flow more freely around organizations, but at a cost, leading to an optimal size of informal organizational networks.  If organizations can control these, this leads to implications for optimal information flows in companies.