TU Delft
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2010/2011 Technology, Policy and Management TBM Electives
Agent Based Modeling of Complex Adaptive Systems - Basics
Module Manager
Name E-mail
Dr.ir. I. Nikolic    I.Nikolic@tudelft.nl
Name E-mail
Dr.ir. I. Bouwmans    I.Bouwmans@tudelft.nl
Contact Hours / Week x/x/x/x
Education Period
Start Education
Exam Period
Course Language
Required for
Expected prior knowledge
No prior knowledge expected, some experience in computer programming is beneficial.
Course Contents
Our human society consists of many intertwined Large Scale Socio-Technical Systems (LSSTS), such as infrastructures, industrial networks, the financial systems etc. Environmental pressures created by these systems on Earth’s carrying capacity are leading to exhaustion of natural resources, loss of habitats and biodiversity, and are causing a resource and climate crisis. To avoid this sustainability crisis, we urgently need to transform our production and consumption patterns. Given that we, as inhabitants of this planet, are part of a complex and integrated global system where and how should we begin this transformation? And how can we also ensure that our transformation efforts will lead to a sustainable world?

LSSTS and the ecosystems that they are embedded in are known to be Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS). According to John Holland CAS are "...a dynamic network of many agents (which may represent cells, species, individuals, firms, nations) acting in parallel, constantly acting and reacting to what the other agents are doing. The control of a CAS tends to be highly dispersed and decentralized. If there is to be any coherent behavior in the system, it will have to to arise from competition and cooperation among the agents themselves. The overall behavior of the system is the result of a huge number of decisions made every moment" by many individual agents.

Understanding Complex Adaptive Systems requires tools that themselves are complex to create and understand. Shalizi defines Agent Based Modeling as "An agent is a persistent thing which has some state we find worth representing, and which interacts with other agents, mutually modifying each other’s states. The components of an agent-based model are a collection of agents and their states, the rules governing the interactions of the agents and the environment within which they live."

This course will explore the theory of CAS and their main properties. It will also teach you how to, work with Agent Based Models in order to model and understand CAS. The Basic course (SPM 9550) will focus on modifying exsting models and theory. The Advanced course (SPM9555) will be a project to set up a model of a CAS you choose independently.
Study Goals
The two goal of the course are, first, to understand Complex Adaptive Systems theory and its relation to the socio-technical systems around us. Second goal is for the student to learn about the the basics of Agent Based Modeling.

More formally, there are 5 course goals:
1. Students should know the definitions of CAS properties, as listed in the course topics
2. Students should be able to identify relevant properties of a system and determine whether or not the system can be classified as CAS.
3. Students should be able to create a coherent description of a system from both top down and bottom up
4. Students should be able to understand and modify Agent Based Simulations of CAS in NetLogo
5. Students should be able to reflect on the traditional engineering systems thinking from the CAS perspective and understand the implications of changing the traditional perspective.
Education Method
Course SPM 9550 consists of a series of lectures and practicals.

Lectures and practicals are intertwined, building on top of each other. Where possible, the theory discussed in the lectures will be explored in a practical. Lectures will explore the interrelated properties of complex systems.

The practicals are meant to teach you to work with NetLogo and experience the CAS properties discussed during the lectures. The practicals build up in complexity, and once we reach a sufficient proficiency with NetLogo, we will examine speciffic complexity concepts in more detail. The focus on practicals is exploration and modification of existing models.

Computer Use
The course will extensively use computer simulations. The necessary software will be provided.
Course Relations
This is the introductory course for Advanced course SPM9555
Course materials will be provided in digital form on wiki.tudelft.nl/Education/SPM955xABMofCAS/
Examination will consist of two parts. First part of the exam will take place with a Agent Based Model on a computer, with the student being asked to explain what the model is doing, and explain why the model is performing the way it does, and how could it be changed in order to achieve different behavior.

The second part consists of a traditional written examination of the theory presented during the course.
Permitted Materials during Tests
All TU Delft MSc students
Extra Skills Trained
Agent Based Modeling in NetLogo