I Nominate “Computational Economic Systems Design”

Michael Giberson

At his Oddhead Blog, Yahoo! researcher David Pennock reports several links of interest for folks working at the intersection of the fields of economics and computer science and then asks what this subfield should be called.  He finds several terms in use for projects or at conferences: Algorithmic Economics, Market Algorithms, Electronic Commerce, Economics and Computation, Algorithmic Game Theory, and adds “A fun suggestion is Economatics (or Autonomics), meant to invoke a mashup of economics and automation.”

I suggest “computational economic systems design” as an accurate description, even if a bit awkward even by geek science standards, putting the intersection of computer science and economics Pennock is concerned with within the slightly broader subfield of computational economics.

Pennock notes, “the phrase Computational Economics makes sense but is already in use by a different field.” (Link in source)  In a long comment posted in response to Pennock’s related Facebook note, Duke University computer scientist Vincent Conitzer argues for using a wide definition for Computational Economics and finding room within that definition for this intersection.  Conitzer said in part:

As [Pennock] pointed out, the main downside of “computational economics” is that other people have already started using this phrase. But note that they (comp-econ.org) seem to (correctly, IMO) have a very wide interpretation of this phrase, including topics in finance, macroeconomics, and econometrics — but also things like “computational tools for the design of automated Internet markets.” I think it doesn’t make any sense at all to say that the computer scientists working on economics are not part of computational economics! I think we should politely claim our rightful place under the phrase “computational economics,” and the other community may not mind at all — but perhaps we should engage this other community more, and also think more about whether we can in fact make ourselves useful in topics in macro, econometrics, etc. Actually, this may be more important than our struggles with finding a name.

For me at a personal level, when I came to Duke, there was already a strong sense that I would be working in “computational economics,” doubtlessly encouraged by the fact that we have a strong computational biology presence and the parallel is natural (and now we also have a computational economics minor). I went along with that vision (which I think is a good one), though I have tried to make it clear that I work on computational MICROeconomics — I don’t do any macro or econometrics — and I think this mitigates the issue of a conflict with the existing comp econ people.


One thought on “I Nominate “Computational Economic Systems Design”

  1. Economics. Computational Economic System Design suggests some kind of Monte Carlo approach to Gostplan.* And why claim a field for a paper with a non-cheeky name? There’s the title, that’s what’s to expect; Tax Compliant Shortings of M1, Market Effect of Calls Deferred Until iTunes Maintenance Hour, Clearing and its Opponents.

    There’s nothing in there for Computer Science in itself, just practice; it’s like deciding what branch of Physics foundation-laying (Standard Uses) is (in the US etc, where there’s a floodplain compliance thing saying most of how your foundation’s going to be, though some builders choose bas-relief teak footings and forms without even the basic MBA.) Or by the same token, going back on Economics calling it eBay for Velocity-Shy Prudes.

    * I don’t really know about the Federal Reserve Bank’s merry way of hiring up all the economists academe can spare to set minor US exchanges at a high boil, though. If there’s a taste-setter title, folks, that beats Lady GaGa.

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