Syllabus of Readings

Complex Adaptive Systems
and Agent-Based Computational Economics

Last Updated: 6 January 2016

Site maintained by:
Leigh Tesfatsion
Department of Economics
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa 50011-1070
tesfatsi AT

Agent-Based Computational Economics (ACE) Website

NOTE: To keep this site to a reasonable size, many ACE readings are now being directly posted at the specialized ACE research application areas listed here rather than posted at this more general ACE/CAS syllabus site. Moreover, books are stressed at this syllabus site in preference to articles and working papers.

At the time of its initiation (1996), this site was based in part on the artificial life syllabi prepared by Emanuel Gruengard (Bar-Ilan University), John Koza (Stanford University), and Martin Zwick (Portland State University), and on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) manual maintained by Joerg Heitkoetter of the University of Dortmund for the newsgroup


A system is typically defined to be a complex system if it exhibits the following two properties (see, e.g., Gary Flake, The Computational Beauty of Nature, MIT Press, 1998):

Agreement on the definition of a complex adaptive system (CAS) has proved to be more difficult to achieve. The range of possible definitions offered by commentators includes the following three nested characterizations:

Definition 1:
A CAS is a complex system that includes reactive units, i.e., units capable of exhibiting systematically different attributes in reaction to changed environmental conditions.

Definition 2:
A CAS is a complex system that includes goal-directed units, i.e., units that are reactive and that direct at least some of their reactions towards the achievement of built-in (or evolved) goals.

Definition 3:
A CAS is a complex system that includes planner units, i.e., units that are goal-directed and that attempt to exert some degree of control over their environment to facilitate achievement of these goals.

Agent-based Computational Economics (ACE) is a culture-dish approach to the study of economic systems viewed as complex adaptive systems in the sense of Definition 1, at a minimum, and often in the stronger sense of Definition 2 or Definition 3. As in a culture-dish laboratory experiment, the ACE modeler starts by computationally constructing an economic world comprising multiple interacting agents (units). The modeler then steps back to observe the development of the world over time.

This site provides annotated references to readings of possible interest to CAS researchers in general and to ACE researchers in particular.

CAS/ACE Readings by Topic Area:

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  1. Introductory Overviews

  2. Evolutionary Computation
    1. Introductory Readings
    2. Genetic Algorithms and Evolving Rule sets
    3. Genetic Programming
    4. Evolutionary Programming and Evolution Strategies
    5. Artificial Neural Networks
    6. Other Readings of Interest

  3. Robotics

  4. Biological Evolution
    1. Key Issues in Biological Evolution
    2. Game Theory Approaches to Biological Evolution

  5. Social Evolution
    1. Adaptation, Learning, and Innovation
    2. Game Theory Approaches to Social Evolution

  6. Economic and Social Network Formation

  7. Classic Critiques

  8. Software and Software Development

  9. Commercial Development and Application

Copyright © Leigh Tesfatsion. All Rights Reserved.