The Information Economies project is no longer active at IBM Research, but we are keeping this site available because several of the papers generated by that effort are frequently cited and we wish to keep them freely available to the academic community.
Vision of the Future
Today, we are witnessing the first steps in the evolution of the Internet towards an open, free-market information economy of software agents buying and selling a rich variety of information goods and services. We envision the Internet some years hence as a seething milieu in which billions of economically-motivated software agents find and process information and disseminate it to humans and, increasingly, to other agents. Agents will naturally evolve from facilitators into decision-makers, and their degree of autonomy and responsibility will continue to increase with time. Ultimately, transactions among economic software agents will constitute an essential and perhaps even dominant portion of the world economy.
The evolution of the Internet into an information economy seems as desirable as it does inevitable. After all, economic mechanisms are arguably the best known way to adjudicate and satisfy the conflicting needs of billions of agents – human agents. It is tempting to blindly wave the Invisible Hand and assume that the same mechanisms can be applied successfully to software agents. However, automated agents are not people! They make decisions and act on them at a vastly greater speed. They are immeasurably less sophisticated, less flexible, less able to learn, and notoriously lacking in "common sense". Given these differences, it is entirely possible that agent-based economies will behave in very strange and unfamiliar ways.