Agent Based Modeling at the Boundary of Law and Software

Principal Investigator(s): 
Michael Tschantz

ICSI researchers are studying how agent-based models (ABMs) of social contexts can improve the design and regulation of accountable software systems. Agent-based modeling is a social scientific research method that involves bottom-up modeling of complex systems and computationally determining their emergent properties by running simulations. The ICSI researchers are using ABMs to model elements of the social and regulatory environment in which a software system operates. Their project’s novelties are due to its interdisciplinary synthesis, applying ABMs from social sciences to software specification and automated testing, as done in computer science, to guide the crafting and enforcement of technology regulations, a legal concern. The project's impacts are informing public policy and teaching as well as providing an open-source software toolkit for the automated testing of software systems.

Software, regulation, and society interact with unpredictable and sometimes undesirable dynamic feedback effects.  ICSI researchers are exploring how ABMs and scientific simulation can address the gap between legal requirements and software design by helping regulators, domain experts, software designers, and other stakeholders assess the potential societal implications of particular software and regulatory systems. They are using ABMs for three tasks: (1) creating software specifications using models of regulations and the social environment in which software operates, (2) testing software systems for compliance using simulations of their social impact, and (3) designing regulations that reflect these new tools. Their project develops these general methods for improving the design of accountable software systems and advancing the understanding of the legal context of software design through the exploration of two specific domains: the effects of online advertising systems on housing segregation and the tradeoffs between privacy and accuracy in contact tracing for infectious-disease control.


This research is in collaboration with researchers at New York University and is funded by a grant from NSF, The National Science Foundation.