Computational Economies

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"It is the question of the “computable” in economics that is the point of departure for the present article. Here, we explore examples of computational economies — that is, societies in which economic resources are largely defined and allocated by computational systems—in order to take seriously the imaginative possibilities to which they give life. Our method is at first historical; in line with the work of writers such as Philip Mirowski, we propose that there is much to be gained from understanding computation within a wider historical context of economics and politics. This move unsettles assumptions that are sometimes made about economic planning by computers, with regard to social engineering, surveillance, and co-option by state and capital. It also offers a perspective on past hopes for economic computation that is neither naïvely optimistic nor paralyzingly dystopian."

- Elizabeth Stainforth and Jo Lindsay Walton [1]

More information

* Article: Computing Utopia: The Horizons of Computational Economies in History and Science Fiction. By Jo Lindsay Walton. Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 3, Issue 46, pp. 471-89, 2019


"This article connects the recent flourishing of economic science fiction with the increasing technicity of contemporary financial markets, to pose questions about computational economies, both historical and fictional, and their ambiguous utopian currents. It explores examples of computational economies and societies in which economic resources are largely defined and allocated by computational systems to challenge—if not entirely dispel—assumptions about the inextricability of computation and the dystopian specters of capitalism, authoritarianism, and totalitarianism. The article puts insights from the histories of cybernetics, computer science, and economics into dialogue with sf novels that experiment with different sociopolitical configurations of computational economies. The novels that are the primary focus of the discussion are The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) by Ursula K. Le Guin and If Then (2015) by Matthew De Abaitua. The article concludes with some thoughts about the use of history and fiction for expanding the imaginative horizons of the computable in economics."