Virginia Tech Is Building an Artificial America in a Supercomputer IEEE Spectrum (12/04/08) Upson, Sandra
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University researchers have created a virtual America, modeling the lives of approximately 100 million Americans, using publicly available demographic data. The researchers hope the simulation will provide new insight into the effects of human activities and trends, such as how contagion spreads, fads grow, or traffic flows. Over the next six months the researchers expect to be able to simulate the movement of all 300 million residents of the United States. The simulation, called EpiSimdemics, matches the demographic attributes of groups with at least 1,500 people, says researcher Keith Bisset. Using as many as 163 variables, mostly from the U.S. Census, the software creates people to populate real communities, and gives each person an age, education level, and occupation that mirrors local statistics from the census. Some individuals are clustered into families, while others live alone, and certain people are employed in specific jobs based on data from a business directory. Navteq provided land-use information to assign every simulated house a real street address, as well as schools, supermarkets, and shopping centers based on their proximity to the homes. When a simulated American goes shopping, the model algorithm assigns probabilities that he or she will visit one store or another, creating a level of unpredictability. Modeling how a flu epidemic might spread through different regions has been a major application of the simulation so far.