Free agents

Science 

For more than half a century, U.S. government officials have considered disaster scenarios, such as the consequences of a nuclear bomb going off in Washington, D.C. Only now, instead of following fixed story lines and predictions assembled ahead of time, they are using computers to play what-if with an entire artificial society: an advanced type of computer simulation called an agent-based model. Today's version of the nuclear attack model includes a digital simulation of every building in the area affected by the bomb, as well as every road, power line, hospital, and even cell tower. The model includes weather data to simulate the fallout plume. And the scenario is peopled with some 730,000 agents.