[ Home] [Tech Library]

8. Conclusions

A central challenge of computer science is the coordination of complex systems. In the early days of computation, central planning-at first, by individual programmers-was inevitable. As the field has developed, new techniques have supported greater decentralization and better use of divided knowledge. Chief among these techniques has been object-oriented programming, which in effect gives property rights in data to computational entities. Further advance in this direction seems possible.

Experience in human society and abstract analysis in economics both indicate that market mechanisms and price systems can be surprisingly effective in coordinating actions in complex systems. They integrate knowledge from diverse sources; they are robust in the face of experimentation; they encourage cooperative relationships; and they are inherently parallel in operation. All these properties are of value not just in society, but in computational systems: markets are an abstraction that need not be limited to societies of talking primates.

This paper has examined many of the concrete issues involved in actually creating computational markets, from hardware and software foundations, to initial market strategies for resource management (chiefly in [III]), to the organization of systems of objects and agents able to interact in a market context. As yet, no obstacle to their realization has been found.

Distributed systems based on the charge-per-use sale of software services and computational resources promise a more flexible and effective software market, in which large systems will more often be built from pre-existing parts. With many minds building knowledge and competence into market objects, and with incentives favoring cooperation among these objects, the overall problem-solving ability of the system can be expected to grow rapidly.

On a small scale, central planning makes sense; on a larger scale, market mechanisms make sense. Computer science began in a domain where central planning made sense, and central planning has thus been traditional. It seems likely, however, that some modern computer systems are already large and diverse enough to benefit from decentralized market coordination. As systems grow in scale and complexity, so will the advantages of market-based computational systems.

Previous Next

Last updated: 07 July 2000

[ Home] [Tech Library]