Agent-based models have the potential to become instrumental tools in real-world decision-making, equipping policy-makers with the ability to experiment with high-fidelity representations of complex systems. Such models often rely crucially on the generation of synthetic populations with which the model is simulated, and their behaviour can depend strongly on the population’s composition. Existing approaches to synthesising populations attempt to model distributions over agent-level attributes on the basis of data collected from a real-world population. Unfortunately, these approaches are of limited utility when data is incomplete or altogether absent – such as during novel, unprecedented circumstances – so that considerable uncertainty regarding the characteristics of the population being modelled remains, even after accounting for any such data. What is therefore needed in these cases are tools to simulate and plan for the possible future behaviours of the complex system that can be generated by populations that are consistent with this remaining uncertainty. To this end, we frame the problem of synthesising populations in agent-based models as a problem of scenario generation. The framework that we present is designed to generate synthetic populations that are on the one hand consistent with any persisting uncertainty, while on the other hand matching closely a target, user-specified scenario that the decision-maker would like to explore and plan for. We propose and compare two generic approaches to generating synthetic populations that produce target scenarios, and demonstrate through simulation studies that these approaches are able to automatically generate synthetic populations whose behaviours match the target scenario, thereby facilitating simulation-based planning under uncertainty.
Dyer, J., Quera-Bofarull, A., Bishop, N., Farmer, J.D., Calinescu, A., Wooldridge, M. (2023). Population synthesis as scenario generation for simulation-based planning under uncertainty.Forthcoming at the 23rd International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS 2024).