NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Algorithms and the Changing Frontier

Hezekiah Agwara, Philip Auerswald, Brian Higginbotham

Chapter in NBER book The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy (2015), Adam Jaffe and Benjamin Jones, editors (p. 371 - 410)
Conference held August 2-3, 2013
Published in July 2015 by University of Chicago Press
© 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

The notion of the "frontier" has changed from being a geographical one, to one that delineates the pursuit and production of scientific knowledge. We first summarize the dominant interpretations of the "frontier" in the United States and predecessor colonies over the past 400 years: agricultural (1610s-1880s), industrial (1890s-1930s), scientific (1940s-1980s), and algorithmic (1990s-present). We describe the difference between the algorithmic frontier and the scientific frontier. We then propose that the recent phenomenon referred to as "globalization" is actually better understood as the progression of the algorithmic frontier, as enabled by standards that in turn have facilitated the interoperability of firm-level production algorithms. We conclude by describing implications of the advance of the algorithmic frontier for scientific discovery and technological innovation.

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w20039, Algorithms and the Changing Frontier, Hezekiah Agwara, Philip Auerswald, Brian Higginbotham
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Timothy Simcoe
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