Alison Heppenstall

Invited Speaker

Building Cities from Slime Mould, Agents and Quantum Field Theory


Managing the unprecedented growth of cities whilst ensuring that they are sustainable, healthy and equitable places to live, presents significant challenges.  Our current thinking conceptualise cities as being driven by processes from the bottom-up, with an emphasis on the role that individual decisions and behaviour play.  Multi-agent systems, and agent-based modelling in particular, are ideal frameworks for the analysis of such systems.  However, identifying the important drivers within an urban system, translating key behaviours from data into rules, quantifying uncertainty and running models in real time all present significant challenges. We discuss how innovations in a diverse range of fields are influencing empirical agent-based models, and how models designed for the simplest biological systems might transform the ways that we understand and manage real cities.


Alison Heppenstall is Professor of Geocomputation at the University of Leeds (UK) and an ESRC-Turing Fellow at the Alan Turing Institute (London, UK). Heppenstall is currently developing approaches for the emerging field of urban analytics, including the detection of ‘hidden’ spatio-temporal patterns in ‘big data’, quantifying uncertainty in agent-based models and building more robust models of multi-agent systems through probabilistic programming and reinforcement learning. Her work has been funded by numerous funding agencies and the outputs have featured in national and international media outlets.