Saturday, 14 November 2015

Diffusion of the dead - The maths of zombie invasions. Part 2, Important questions you need to ask in a zombie outbreak.

We begin modelling a zombie population in the same way that a mathematician would approach the modelling of any subject. We, first, consider what questions we want to ask, as the questions will direct which techniques we use to solve the problem. Secondly, we consider what has been done before and what factors were missing in order to achieve the answers we desire. This set of blog posts will consider three questions:
  1. How long will it take for the zombies to reach us?
  2. Can we stop the infection?
  3. Can we survive?
In order to answer these questions I, Ruth Baker, Eamonn Gaffney and Philip Maini focused on the motion of the zombies as their speed and directionality would have huge effects on these three questions. Explicitly, we used a mathematical description of diffusion as a way to model the zombies motion. This was discussed in a previous post, but I recap the main points here.
  • The original zombie infection article by Robert Smith? did not include zombie, or human movement.
  • Zombies are well known for is their slow, shuffling, random motion. The end of Dawn of the Dead (shown in the YouTube clip below) gives some great footage of zombies just going about their daily business.
  • This random motion is perfectly captured through the mathematics of diffusion.

    Of course, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that zombies are attracted to human beings, as they are the predator to our prey. However, as we will see, we are going to be over run on a time scale of minutes! Thus, although mathematicians can model directed motion, and chasing, these additional components complicate matters. Further, random motion leads to some nice simple scaling formulas that can be used to quickly calculate how long you approximately have left before you meet a zombie.

    Another simplifying assumption that we make is that we can model the zombie (and human) populations as continuous quantities. Again, this is incorrect as zombies are discrete units (even if they are missing body parts). Since we are making an assumption we will create an error in our solution. But how big is this error? In particular, if the error in the assumption is smaller than the errors in our observable data set then we do not have to worry too much. The error introduced by this assumption is actually dependent on the size of the population we are considering. The more individuals you have, you more the population will act like a continuous quantity. Since there are a lot of corpses out there, we do not think this assumption is too bad.

    Note that we could model the motion of each zombie individually, however,  the computing power needed by such a simulation is much larger than the continuum description, which can be solved completely analytically. This is particularly important in the case of the zombie apocalypse, where time spent coding a simulation, may be better spent scavenging.

    These are the basic assumptions we made when modelling a zombie population. Although I have tried to justify them you may have reservations about their validity. That is the very nature of mathematical modelling; try the simplest thing, first, and compare it to data. If you reproduce the phenomena that you are interested in then you have done your job well. However, if there is a discrepancy between the data and your maths then you have to revisit your assumptions and adapt them to make them more realistic.

    Next time we contend with the equations and model the motion of the zombie as a random walker.

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