For NYU Community

(Light lunch served prior at 12:30PM)


Paul M. Torrens
University of Maryland

The modern geographical sciences have always maintained close ties with computing. Elements of artificial intelligence have long been used by geographers to build knowledge bases for spatial data mining and for processing images from Earth-observing satellite platforms. Aspects of behavioral geography have perennially featured in robotics, as motion planning and motion control, for example. When computing moved to the Web, geography followed, and much of the symbolic reasoning that had developed in the geographical sciences took on new relevance in the Semantic Web.

Similarly, as mobile devices proliferated, many facets of Geographic Information Systems moved to the mainstream of ubiquitous computing, where they contributed to the development of location-aware computing and location-based services. Geography has always been an important element of computer gaming, in mapping gameplay, stories, and character interaction to virtual worlds, and where spatial data structures can significantly enhance games’ efficiency and realism. Moreover, geography presents as one of the most robust schemes for structuring the now massive troves of big data that social computing and sensor webs now generate.

In recent years, an emerging field of geocomputation has begun to flourish around the broad synergies that have formed, and still may form, between geography, computer science, and the computational sciences. Fusion, across the disciplines, has been catalyzed, in large part, by the emergence of cyber-physical systems in everyday contexts that dip into and jump across both tangible spaces and cyber-spaces with equal ease.

In many ways, these developments are at the vanguard of an emerging “fourth paradigm” for science, in which computing and data science present as entirely new substrates for scientific inquiry, while also affording novel vistas on existing scientific problems. They also present significant opportunity for engineering systems that are more responsive to people and things at their native scaling and timing for interaction. In this presentation, I will discuss some of my work to construct methodological foundations for a next phase of geocomputation.

I will focus on my work to build a flexible and extensible sandbox for modeling and simulation around a geocomputational core. I will also present some of the applied work that those methods facilitate, particularly in supporting exploration of messily complex systems at the built-human interface of cities.


Dr. Paul M. Torrens is a Professor in the Department of Geographical Sciences and the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park, and Director of the Center for Geospatial Information Science. His work is focused on building next-generation methods and applications at the intersection of computing, data science, and urban systems. He was the recipient of a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the U.S. National Science Foundation in 2007, and he was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by President George W. Bush in 2008.