ABCE’s first design goal is that, code can be rapidly written, to enable a modeler to quickly write down code and quickly explore different alternatives of a model.

Execution speed is a secondary concern to the goal of rapid development. Execution speed is achieved by making use of multiple-cores/processors and using C++ for background tasks or using pypy.

Secondly, the modeler can concentrate on programming the behavior of the agents and the specification of goods, production and consumption function. The functions for economic simulations such as production, consumption, trade, communication are provided and automatically performed by the platform.

Python has also been chosen as a programming language, because of it’s rich environment of standard libraries. Python for example comes with a stock representation of agents in a spacial world, which allow the modeler to model a spatial model.

Python is especially beginner friendly, but also easy to learn for people who already know object oriented programming languages such as Java, C++ or even MATLAB. ABCE uses C++, to handle background tasks to increase speed. Python allows simple, but fully functional, programming for economists. What is more Python is readable even for non Python programmers.

Python is a language that lends itself to writing of code fast, because it has low overhead. In Python variables do not have to be declared, garbage does not have to be collected and classes have no boiler-plate code.

Python, is slower than Java or C, but its reputation for slow speed is usually exaggerated. Various packages for numerical calculations and optimization such as numpy and scipy offer the C like speed to numerical problems. Contrary to the common belief Python is not an interpreted language. Pypy even provides a just in time complier Python is compiled to bytecode and than executed. ABCE allows to parallelize the code and gain significant speed advantage over single-threaded code, that does not make use of the speed advantage of multi-core or multi-processor computers.

ABCE 0.6 supports Python 3.

[1]Python is often falsely believe to be an interpreted language

For the simulated problem all agents are executed in parallel. This is achieved by randomizing the arrival of messages and orders between sub-rounds. For example if in one sub-round all agents make offers and in the next sub-round all agents receive and answer the offers, the order in which the agents receive is random, as if the agent’s in the round before would make offers in a random order.

Differences to other agent-based modeling platforms

We identified several survey articles as well as a quite complete overview of agent-based modeling software on Wikipedia. [Serenko2002], [Allan2010] [Societies2009], [Tobias2004], [Railsback2006], [abmcomparisonWikipedia2013]. The articles ‘Tools of the Trade’ by Madey and Nikolai [Societies2009] and ‘Survey of Agent Based Modelling and Simulation Tools’ by Allan [Allan2010] attempt to give a complete overview of agent-based modelling platforms/frameworks. The Madey and Nikolai paper categorizes the abm-platforms according to several categories. (Programming Language, Type of License, Operating System and Domain). According to this article, there is only one software platform which aims at the specific domain of economics: JASA. But JASA is a modeling platform that aims specifically at auctions. Wikipedia [abmcomparisonWikipedia2013] lists JAMEL as an economic platform, but JAMEL a is closed source and an non-programming platform. The ‘Survey of Agent Based Modelling and Simulation Tools’ by Allan [Allan2010] draws our attention to LSD, which, as it states, is rather a system dynamic, than an agent-based modeling platform. We conclude that there is a market for a domain specific language for economics.

While the formerly mentioned modeling platforms aim to give a complete overview, ‘Evaluation of free Java - libraries for social scientific agent based simulation’ [Tobias2004] by Tobias and Hoffman chooses to concentrate on a smaller number of simulation packages. Tobias and Hoffman discuss: RePast, Swarm, Quicksilver, and VSEit. We will follow this approach and concentrate on a subset of ABM models. First as economics is a subset of social science we dismiss all platforms that are not explicitly targeted at social science. The list of social science platforms according to [Societies2009] Madey and Nikolai is: AgentSheets, LSD, FAMOJA, MAML, MAS-SOC, MIMOSE, NetLogo, Repast SimBioSys, StarLogo, StarLogoT, StarLogo TNG, Sugarscape, VSEit NetLogo and Moduleco. We dismiss some of these frameworks/platforms:

because it is closed source and not ‘programable’
because it is a system dynamics rather than an agent-based modeling environment
because it does not use a standard programming language, but it is it’s own.
because we could not find it in the Internet and its documentation according to [Allan2010] is sparse.
is an interesting language, but we will not analyze as it is based on a completely different programming paradigm, functional programming, as opposed to object-oriented programming.
because it has according to Allan [Allan2010] and our research a sparse documentation.
StarLogo, StarLogoT, StarLogo TNG,
because they have been superseded by NetLogo
because it has according to Allan [Allan2010] and our research a sparse documentation. Further, it appears not to be updated since roughly 2001

We will concentrate on the most widely used ABM frameworks/platforms: MASON, NetLogo, Repast.

General differences to other agent-based modeling platforms

First of all ABCE is domain specific, that enables it to provide the basic functions such as production, consumption, trade and communication as fully automated stock methods. Because any kind of agent interaction (communication and exchange of goods) is handled automatically ABCE, it can run the agents (virtually) parallel and run simulations on multi-core/processor systems without any intervention by the modeler.

The second biggest difference between ABCE and other platforms is that ABCE introduces the physical good as an ontological object in the simulation. Goods can be exchanged and transformed. ABCE handles these processes automatically, so that for the model a physical good behaves like a physical good and not like a message. That means that if a good is transfered between two agents the first agent does not have this good anymore, and the second agent has it now. Once, for example, two agents decide to trade a good ABCE makes sure that the transaction is cleared between the two agents.

Thirdly, ABCE is just a scheduler that schedules the actions of the agents and a python base class that enables the agent to produce, consume, trade and communicate. A model written in ABCE, therefore is standard Python code and the modeler can make use of the complete Python language and the Python language environment. This is a particular useful feature because Python comes with about 30.000 [2] publicly available packages, that could be used in ABCE. Particularly useful packages are:

a neural network package
a package for numerical computation
a package for numerical optimization and statistical functions
a package for symbolic manipulation
a package for spacial representation ala NetLogo

Fourth, many frameworks such as FLAME, NetLogo, StarLogo, Ascape and SugarScape and, in a more limited sense, Repast are designed with spacial representation in mind. For ABCE a spacial representation is possible, but not a design goal. However, since agents in ABCE are ordinary Python objects, they can use python modules such as python-turtle and therefore gain a spacial representation much like NetLogo. This does by no means mean that ABCE could not be a good choice for a problem where the spacial position plays a role. If for example the model has different transport costs or other properties according to the geographical position of the agents, but the agent’s do not move or the movement does not have to be represented graphically, ABCE could still be a good choice.

Difference to MASON

Masons is a single-threaded discrete event platform that is intended for simulations of social, biological and economical systems. [Luke]. Mason is a platform that was explicitly designed with the goal of running it on large platforms. MASON distributes a large number of single threaded simulations over deferent computers or processors. ABCE on the other hand is multi-threaded it allows to run agents in parallel. A single run of a simulation in MASON is therefore not faster on a computing cluster than on a potent single-processor computer. ABCE on the other hand uses the full capacity of multi-core/processor systems for a single simulation run. The fast execution of a model in ABCE allow a different software development process, modelers can ‘try’ their models while they are developing and adjust the code until it works as desired. The different nature of both platforms make it necessary to implement a different event scheduling system.

Mason is a discrete event platform. Events can be scheduled by the agents. ABCE on the other hand is scheduled - it has global list of sub-rounds that establish the sequence of actions in every round. Each of these sub-rounds lets a number of agents execute the same actions in parallel.

MASON, like Repast Java is based on Java, while ABCE is based on Python, the advantages have been discussed before.

Difference Repast

Repast is a modeling environment for social science. It was originally conceived as a Java recoding of SWARM. [Collier] [NORTH2005] Repast comes in several flavors: Java, .Net, and a Python like programming language. Repast has been superseded by Repast Symphony which maintains all functionality, but is limited to Java. Symphony has a point and click interface for simple models. [NORTH2005a]

Repast does allow static and dynamic scheduling. [Collier]. ABCE, does not (yet) allow for dynamic scheduling. In ABCE, the order of actions - or in ABCE language order of sub-rounds - is fixed and is repeated for every round. This however is not as restrictive as it sounds, because in any sub-round an agent could freely decide what he does.

The advantage of the somehow more limited implementation of ABCE is ease of use. While in Repast it is necessary to subclass the scheduler in ABCE it is sufficient to specify the schedule and pass it the Simulation class.

Repast is vast, it contains 210 classes in 9 packages [Collier]. ABCE, thanks to its limited scope and Python, has only 6 classes visible to the modeler in a single package.


Physical Goods

Physical goods are at the heart of almost every economic model. The core feature and main difference to other ABM platforms is the implementation of physical goods. In contrast to information or messages, sharing a good means having less of it. In other words if agent A gives a good to agent B then agent A does not have this good anymore. On of the major strength of ABCE is that this is automatically handled.

In ABCE goods can be created, destroyed, traded, given or changed through production and consumption. All these functions are implemented in ABCE and can be inherited by an agent as a method. These functions are automatically handled by ABCE upon decision from the modeler.

Every agent in ABCE must inherit from the abce.Agent class. This gives the agent a couple of stock methods: create, destroy, trade and give. Create and destroy create or destroy a good immediately. Because trade and give involve a form of interaction between the agents they run over several sub-rounds. Selling of a good for example works like this:

  • Sub-round 1. The first agent offers the goods.
    The good is automatically subtracted from the agents possessions, to avoid double selling.
  • Sub-round 2. The counter agent receives the offer. The agent can
    1. accept: the goods are added to the counter part’s possessions. Money is subtracted.
    2. reject (or equivalently ignore): Nothing happens in this sub-round
    3. partially accept the offer: The partial amount of goods is added to the counter part’s possessions. Money is subtracted.
  • Sub-round 3. In case of
    1. acceptance, the money is credited
    2. rejection the original good is re-credited
    3. partial acceptance the money is credited and the unsold part of the good is re-credited.
[3]Python contrary to the common believe is compiled to bytecode similar to Java’s compilation to bytecode.