Skip to content

Information for students, faculty and staff regarding COVID-19. (Updated: 25 January 2021)


Modeling Social Reality for Social Simulations

PhD project Within this project we will develop theory and tools for creating simulations that allow to represent the different perspectives on the social rules and explain the consequences of new policies to the stakeholders.

Head of project

Frank Dignum
Professor, Umeå University

Project overview

Project period:

2020-02-01 2024-02-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Computing Science

External funding

Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation

Project description

Social rules govern our daily life and describe desired and accepted behavior. They influence our decision making process in daily situations, as we want to act and justify our behavior in a socially desired way. Social rules can be seen not only as constraints on behavior but also as a motivator to take certain actions. Therefore, it is important to represent them appropriately in simulations to increase the realism and make the model more accurate in terms of social reality. This is a challenge for any kind of policy development as often rationality is assumed. This becomes of the essential when dealing with 'non-normal' situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Everyone only focuses on the parts of regulations that are relevant for them and in the way they are relevant for their role. For example: When looking at restrictions for restaurant visits during the COVID crisis, potential guests mostly focus on the allowed group size of guests and their composition (max. four people from two households for example). They will use this to determine how to divide the group over the different tables. Restaurant owners need to ensure that there is sufficient space between the tables and different guests groups. Furthermore, they need to have a plan on how to best split larger groups without destroying the social closeness of such a group.

Changes or new rules also have different influences on the behavior of different roles. E.g. children below 12 can sit together with 4 adults without restriction to the number of children. For the guests it might influence the way they divide the group over tables and how many of them fit in the same table. For the restaurant owner it might lead to the extra requirement that she has to ascertain the age of the guests. Thus, the same change has different consequences for different parties involved in the same situation.

Decision makers, in this case policy makers, have to take all different viewpoints into account. To support them in their decision-making process, agent-based simulations can be a powerful tool. To ensure social realism and enable decision makers to make informed decisions, it is of utmost importance to incorporate all different viewpoints into the simulation. Three different levels come into focus to approach this: the agent, user, and system level. Each of these levels has different requirements and different consequences of what needs to be developed. This affects the methodology, the agent architecture and the system architecture. Furthermore, the top-level visual representation of rules, agents, and actions in the simulation is another key aspect. It is very important that the simulation is able to explain why something is happening and not only what is happening. This is crucial for supporting decision makers in their reasoning process.  Just knowing that certain people adhere to social rules is not sufficient, it is important to know why they do so and what motivates them. 

Within this project we will develop theory and tools for creating simulations that allow to represent the different perspectives on the social rules and explain the consequences of new policies to the stakeholders.

Affiliated to WASP-HS

The project is part of the Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program - Humanities and Society (WASP-HS). The program is initiated and generously funded by the Wallenberg Foundations. The vision of WASP-HS is to realise excellent research and build competence on the ethical, economic, labor market, social and legal aspects of Artificial Intelligence.

For more information about the research and other activities in the program, please visit WASP-HS.

External funding