4 December 2008—At a rally in rural North Carolina during the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, Alaska governor Sarah Palin infamously said that there was a ”real America” and presumably a fake one. Though she was the butt of jokes for the remainder of the campaign, in a way Palin was right. One state over, a team of computer scientists and a physicist from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), in Blacksburg, Va., was creating a fake America of its own.
The group has designed what it claims is the largest, most detailed, and realistic computer model of the lives of about 100 million Americans, using enormous amounts of publicly available demographic data. The model’s makers hope the simulation will shed light on the effects of human comings and goings, such as how a contagion spreads, a fad grows, or traffic flows. In the next six months, the researchers expect to be able to simulate the movement of all 300 million residents of the United States.