Overlooked No More: James Sakoda, Whose Wartime Internment Inspired a Social Science Tool

This article is a part of Overlooked, a sequence of obituaries about exceptional individuals whose deaths, starting in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

Unlike many of the 120,000 Japanese Americans detained in internment camps within the United States throughout World War II, James Sakoda had a mission: to doc the expertise of incarceration. He took about 1,800 pages of notes, largely in personal, lest he be accused of being a traitor or a spy.

Those notes would kind the premise of his 1949 dissertation on the dynamics of people and teams at one in all these camps, the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. Tucked into Appendix B of the paper was presumably the primary instance of what’s often called an “agent-based mannequin” — a simulation of how particular person actions can add as much as large-scale patterns.

The instrument is crucial in a huge number of fields, and has helped social scientists, epidemiologists, monetary regulators, metropolis planners and wildlife consultants do their work. During the coronavirus pandemic, as an example, agent-based fashions had been important for forecasting the unfold of the virus and prioritizing vaccines for sure teams of individuals.

To develop the mannequin, Sakoda used the house computing expertise of the time: a checkerboard. Each checker was given a easy rule for motion, primarily based on its instant environment. By altering the principles even solely barely, Sakoda confirmed that the items may mingle freely, or they may rapidly segregate by colour.

Ecologists and environmentalists have used agent-based fashions to research the interactions between transport boats and beluga whales in Canada’s St. Lawrence River estuary; between people and elephants in Tanzania; and between scuba diving tourism and coral reefs in Thailand. Transportation companies use the fashions to foretell how even minor modifications, like increasing a bus cease, may have an effect on the stream of site visitors.

“James Sakoda was maybe the primary social scientist ever to use computational modeling for unraveling the complexity of social processes,” Andreas Flache, a sociologist on the University of Groningen within the Netherlands, stated in an e mail.

Despite the widespread use of his mannequin, Sakoda didn’t get a lot credit score for his innovation.

James Minoru Sakoda, who was often called Jimmy, was born on April 21, 1916, on an alfalfa ranch in Lancaster, Calif., in northern Los Angeles County. His conservative Buddhist dad and mom, Kenichi and Tazu (Kihara) Sakoda, had been each from Japan.

After transferring across the Los Angeles space, his dad and mom took their 4 youngsters to Japan, the place James attended highschool for 3 years and Tokyo University for one more three.

With $100 in his pocket, Sakoda returned to California and enrolled on the University of California, Berkeley, the place he studied psychology. It was throughout his second yr there that the secretary of warfare established detention camps on the West Coast for Americans of Japanese heritage.

Sakoda was nonetheless at Berkeley when he started documenting Japanese-Americans’ reactions to the disaster. Through a classmate, he met Dorothy Swaine Thomas, a sociologist who was recruiting soon-to-be-incarcerated fieldworkers for a challenge known as the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study.

All 4 Sakoda siblings had been again within the United States by the point they had been ordered to one in all these camps; their dad and mom remained in Japan through the warfare. Sakoda, his brother, George, and his sisters, Ruby and May, had been initially incarcerated in 1942, on the Tulare Assembly Center within the San Joaquin Valley in central California.

“Soldiers stood watching with rifles and Tommy weapons,” Sakoda wrote in his journal, noting that tall grass poked by the asphalt flooring of his barracks, and that the situation of the latrines was “open to criticism.”

He went on to chronicle day by day camp life for Thomas’s challenge, all the time in a indifferent, analytical approach. “I by no means talked about this taking place to us,” he instructed the historian Art Hansen in 1988. Instead, he stated, he checked out it as, “It occurred to them.”

The research “gave him a sense of objective,” Hansen stated in a cellphone interview. “He performed a salvation type of position for not solely his neighborhood, however usually for American historical past.”

The Sakoda siblings had been later moved to the Tule Lake Relocation Center, close to California’s northern border, the place James taught psychology to detainees and met his future spouse, Hatsuye Kurose, who was often called Hattie — the “smartest lady in my class,” as he known as her in a letter to Thomas.

James and Hattie then spent two years on the Minidoka camp in Idaho, the place they married earlier than returning to Berkeley shortly earlier than the camp was closed in 1945.

Sakoda was working in direction of a Ph.D. in psychology at Berkeley when a fellowship took him to Harvard. It was there that he developed his checkerboard mannequin, analyzing the interactions amongst varied teams on the internment camps: the “clannish” Nisei; youngsters of Japanese immigrants; extra reclusive detainees; and camp directors.

After incomes his doctorate from Berkeley in 1949, he briefly taught at Brooklyn College, then joined the psychology school on the University of Connecticut. There he developed an curiosity within the potential of computing in learning human conduct.

In the summer season of 1956, Sakoda discovered to program on early IBM punch-card computer systems at MIT Then, along with his spouse and their son, Bill, he moved to Providence, RI, employed by Brown University, the place he turned the director of a social science laptop laboratory.

At a time when the research of human conduct was largely remoted from computing, Sakoda pushed for higher instruments with which to merge the 2; the checkerboard mannequin, which he taught to college students over the subsequent three a long time, was simply one in all them.

In 1963, he was invited to a summer season institute on the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., to commerce concepts about modeling cognitive processes utilizing computer systems. While there, he started growing his personal computing toolbox for social scientists, calling it DYSTAL. A 1971 paper, “The Checkerboard Model of Social Interaction,” modernized his 1949 mannequin by computer-run simulations.

After retiring from Brown in 1981, Sakoda instructed Hansen, “I feel the very best factor I’ve achieved is the social interplay mannequin, which solved the issue in social psychology of going from the person stage to the group stage.”

But within the Nineteen Nineties and 2000s, as agent-based modeling turned elementary to learning infectious illnesses and the actions of people on a giant scale, a totally different origin story emerged.

Thomas Schelling, a well-connected Harvard economist and White House adviser, was on a airplane certain for Boston when he began noodling with Xs and Os transferring alongside a line. It would finally grow to be a checkerboard mannequin strikingly just like Sakoda’s. Schelling talked about it in a 1969 RAND analysis report and expanded it into an article in 1971, shortly after Sakoda had printed his, in the identical journal.

Decades later, it was Schelling’s article that turned broadly credited as the primary during which the checkerboard mannequin appeared.

It is feasible that Schelling encountered the seed of the concept at RAND — he accomplished a residency there a yr after Sakoda visited. But when requested in a 2001 interview if the checkerboard mannequin devised by Sakoda had influenced him, Schelling replied, “I’ve by no means heard of him.”

In 2005, Schelling was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, with Robert J. Aumann, for “having enhanced our understanding of battle and cooperation by game-theory evaluation.” In a biographical assertion accompanying the prize, Schelling wrote of the checkerboard mannequin, “Without realizing it I used to be pioneering a subject of research that later turned often called ‘agent-based computational modeling.’”

In his later years, in Barrington, RI, Sakoda centered on gardening, his household and a longstanding mathematical facet curiosity: origami. His e-book “Modern Origami,” printed in 1969 and nonetheless in print, showcases his personal designs and made him notable amongst fanatics. (He embellished his laptop laboratory at Brown along with his origami.)

His nephew Jim Kurose stated in an interview that at household gatherings Sakoda “would often go sit by himself quietly in the lounge and take out his paper, and he’d begin folding, and he would simply preserve children completely entranced.”

He died on June 12, 2005. He was 89.

Sakoda’s agent-based modeling improvements are being rediscovered due to the analysis of Rainer Hegselmann, a thinker and social scientist on the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany. In a 2017 article within the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, Hegselmann speculated that the timing of Sakoda’s retirement, in 1981, earlier than the non-public laptop turned ubiquitous, might have led to the erasure of his achievement.

“Maybe that life punishes those that are late,” he wrote. “But generally it punishes those that are early as nicely.”

Sakoda, nevertheless, was “not a lot involved with getting specific credit score for what he did,” his son, Bill, a laptop scientist, stated in an interview.

Instead, he added in an e mail, “He labored magic for a lot of individuals very quietly.”

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