Agoric Open Systems

With the widespread current interest in loosely coordinated distributed computation and resource-sharing grids, I’m surprised that Miller and Drexler’s papers on agoric computing from 1988 (specifically: “Markets and Computation: Agoric Open Systems” and “Incentive Engineering for Computational Resource Management”) haven’t received much attention in these contexts.

For my taste, Web Services and SOA architecture puts too much emphasis on centralized orchestration and not enough on self-organized, coordinated behaviour in large open systems. As Miller and Drexler write:

“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.”

With the heavy, controlling hand of the (closed) enterprise all-too-visible in the current web services technology stack, I expect it will be a very long time before we see true service markets emerging. Maybe the grid folks will do better. I also see some hope in the JXTA notion of the separation of service classes, specifications, and implementations to enable dynamic service discovery and binding–but there’s still, sadly, a long way to go to build the foundations for agoric architectures.

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