The 13th Floor

Dark City

Time, February 23, 1950

Human Complex Systems

Artificial Culture
Simulations using Multiagent and Evolutionary Computation

Spring 2008

Theory and Methods - 5 Units
Lecture, 2 hours;
Laboratory, 4 hours.

  • Lab: Tu/Th 9-11:50
  • CLICC PC Classroom "B"
  • Powell 320B

what participants have said...

Nicholas Gessler

Computer Models of Cultural Evolution

UCLA Registrar
Social Sciences Computing - ClassWeb

"It's not rocket science, but then, what is?"

Please come prepared to do some programming on the first day.
On Tuesday, we will jump right into coding in C++ in CLICC!
Please arrive with 1 USB memory stick, a BOL account and a printer account.
Purchase 10 writable CDs (and paper sleeves, no boxes) and 10 letter-size plastic sleeves.
Bring $20 for a collection or readings distributed periodically.

The Use of Complexity Science
A Report of the U.S. Department of Education

"The challenges of the 21st century will require new ways of thinking about and understanding the complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world in which we live and work. And the new field of complexity science is providing the insights we need to push our thinking in new directions."


Artificial Culture - Simulations using Multiagent and Evolutionary Computation

In what ways can computer languages and programs different from natural spoken language as re-presentations of the complexities of the world? In what ways are they better representations of reality than written words and discourse? These are some of the philosophical questions which we will try to answer through a critical hands-on engagement with artificial culture.

Empirically, culture comprises individuals, artifacts and groups embedded in social, technological and physical environments, all complexly interacting in simultaneous mutual causation. Although sharing many commonalities, each individual has a distinct identity and conception of the world, a specific repertoire of experiences, beliefs, perceptions, interpretations and behaviors. Each artifact similarly carries information in a distinct way. Describing, understanding and explaining culture thus necessitate re-presentations which not only capture this complexity but enact it, thereby enabling the researcher to evaluate suites of theoretical experimental "what-if" scenarios. We critically explore state-of-the-art multicausal multiagent simulations emphasizing the representation of dynamically materially intermediated cultural cognition.

The course is designed to provide participants with informed and critical hands-on experience in how to represent the complexities of culture in the languages of computation. We meet in the CLICC PC computer lab and work with highly visual simulations which make full use of color and sound. Although we use the world-standard language of C++ for Windows the majority of our participants have never coded anything before. As with any social science, attention to details is important. No previous programming experience is required. We begin the first week by exploring cellular automata, a simple class of multiagent model that finds wide application throughout the sciences. In cellular automata we recognize the property of emergence, in which the whole is truly much more than the sum of its constituent parts. We explore, experiment, enhance and enjoy this interaction with "would-be" worlds by writing and/or modifying the code which defines and builds these worlds. Throughout the course we progressively expand our repetoire of computational representations of both space and time as well as those of increasingly complex human and non-human agency. We conclude the course with simulations which self-organize and learn in much the same way that cultural and biological systems do, through the mechanisms of evolution. Thus at the end we are ready to include the creative force that gave rise to our intelligence in the simulations that we write - the growing field of evolutionary computation.

In addition to working first-hand with simulations, we will also look at some of significant historical contributions to the field to gain a better understanding of its future. This will entail looking at computer artifacts of representation as well as video of the state-of-the-art of applications in science and the arts, industry and entertainment, and the military and intelligence communities. have played in the development advances in computation. We will try to arrange a field trip or visit to the Visualization Portal as the opportunities present themselves.

This course is a must for those who wish to understand the computational environment in which we live and the increasing role that simulation technologies play overtly and covertly in our lives. Whether you go on to write simulations, supervise a team of programmers, or assess and critically tease out the assumptions hidden behind simulations offered as arguments for policy decisions, we present a look inside the social processes that are increasingly embedded in simulaiton.


"In times of fear people turn to fundamentalist mindsets, and I don't mean that only in terms of religion. There's economic fundamentalism; there's political fundamentalism, and so forth. And that's really a reducing of the complexity to very clear black versus white, right versus wrong, issues. When that happens, it is very easy for people to take stark, and harshly polarized, points of view and simply lob bombs back and forth at one another verbally. I think there is no question that that is, to some extent, the nature of the discourse in this country right now. And I long to have us move to an understanding of the complex nature of these things."
Rushworth Kidder (President, Institute for Global Ethics).
Radio Interview, "The World," November 22, 2005

is based on demonstrated
progress in the course

Borland Developer Studio 2006


Computers and software
required for this course
are available in all CLICC
classrooms and laboratories
on the 1st and 3rd floors:

I will not return this material to you!

You are allowed two unexcused absences
without it negatively affecting your grade.
Three hands-on programming examinations on selected elements of the
C++ language, the Windows API and Borland's IDE.
5 Simulation Challenges & Critiques
(explore, experiment, enhance & enjoy)
5 Written Discussions of Assigned Readings
(informed critique and implications)
Class Participation
(class attendance, discussion, presentation, one-on-one consultations)
Course Project