We review the statistical mechanics approach to the study of the emerging collective behavior of systems of heterogeneous interacting agents. The general framework is presented through examples is such contexts as ecosystem dynamics and traffic modeling. We then focus on the analysis of the optimal properties of large random resource-allocation problems and on Minority Games and related models of speculative trading in financial markets, discussing a number of extensions including multi-asset models, Majority Games and models with asymmetric information. Finally, we summarize the main conclusions and outline the major open problems and limitations of the approach
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