Computer Modelling

What do astrophysics, economics, psychology, weather forecasts and noise barriers have in common?

This wonderful thing called Computer Modelling.

Computer models are a great way of getting information on what could happen before it actually does. Climatology uses models to analyse and predict climate change based on current and potential future scenarios. Economists use them to predict changes in stock markets and determine ‘smart investments’. Models are used in the development of things such as noise barriers, roadways, and buildings (among others) in order to ensure that they will perform their function as needed.

When talking about computer modelling, a lot of people think about the picture or the information that comes out that is used to make a decision. That’s not actually the model – that’s the simulation that ran based off the model. The actual model is the collection of equations and code that makes the simulation work. The reliability of the simulation and its results comes from the validity of the model – if the model doesn’t take into account some important factors, the simulation isn’t going to give reliable results.

Take a really common example – driving somewhere. In order to get a result that’s going to be anywhere near accurate about how long it will take to get there, you have to take into account a whole lot of factors.
– Speed limits
– Traffic
– Road closures
– Weather conditions
Among others that would take too long to list. If you miss even one of these variables then the simulation isn’t going to give a reliable result and you will probably end up being late. There’s so many different things to take into account if you’re creating a model and they’re specific to the simulation you’re wanting to run.

A scenario like global climate modelling is like a massively scaled up version of that. You not only have to take into account past and present, there are also different scenarios that follow potential paths that depend on action that may or may not be taken. But the use of these models is to determine what action should be taken, so this added complexity is the whole point of creating the model.

Computer models can be used for absolutely anything you like – from figuring out how long it’ll take you to drive to a friend’s house to determining what the climate might be like in 300 years. They underlie many important areas of life and research although not everybody knows how they work or what they even are.

For more information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_simulation
http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/OD/OQM/cms/Pages/default.aspx
http://www.explainthatstuff.com/how-computer-models-work.html
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/simulations-science/

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