This is all very old school – 1988! – but it’s always refresing to take another look at the basics. While a survey paper from U. Florida says that the concept can be traced to Ivan Sutherland auctioning timesharing slots in 1968, the likely origin of the term “agoric systems” (from the greek agora, or market) is Mark S. Miller and K. Eric Drexler’s chapter in The Ecology of Computation.

Like all systems involving goals, resources, and actions, computation can be viewed in economic terms. Computer science has moved from centralized toward increasingly decentralized models of control and action; use of market mechanisms would be a natural extension of this development. The ability of trade and price mechanisms to combine local decisions by diverse parties into globally effective behavior suggests their value for organizing computation in large systems.

This paper examines markets as a model for computation and proposes a framework-agoric systems-for applying the power of market mechanisms to the software domain. It then explores the consequences of this model at a variety of levels. Initial market strategies are outlined which, if used by objects locally, lead to distributed resource allocation algorithms that encourage adaptive modification based on local knowledge. If used as the basis for large, distributed systems, open to the human market, agoric systems can serve as a software publishing and distribution marketplace providing strong incentives for the development of reusable software components. It is argued that such a system should give rise to increasingly intelligent behavior as an emergent property of interactions among software entities and people.