Cognitive Comparative Advantage and the Organization of Work: Lessons from Herbert Simon's Vision of the Future
AbstractIn a marvelous but somewhat neglected paper, 'The Corporation: Will It Be Managed by Machines?' Herbert Simon articulated from the perspective of 1960 his vision of what we now call the New Economy the machine-aided system of production and management of the late twentieth century. Simon's analysis sprang from what I term the principle of cognitive comparative advantage: one has to understand the quite different cognitive structures of humans and machines (including computers) in order to explain and predict the tasks to which each will be most suited. Perhaps unlike Simon's better-known predictions about progress in artificial intelligence research, the predictions of this 1960 article hold up remarkably well and continue to offer important insights. In what follows I attempt to tell a coherent story about the evolution of machines and the division of labor between humans and machines. Although inspired by Simon's 1960 paper, I weave many other strands into the tapestry, from classical discussions of the division of labor to present-day evolutionary psychology. The basic conclusion is that, with growth in the extent of the market, we should see humans 'crowded into' tasks that call for the kinds of cognition for which humans have been equipped by biological evolution. These human cognitive abilities range from the exercise of judgment in situations of ambiguity and surprise to more mundane abilities in spatio-temporal perception and locomotion. Conversely, we should see machines 'crowded into' tasks with a well-defined structure. This conclusion is not based (merely) on a claim that machines, including computers, are specialized idiots-savants today because of the limits (whether temporary or permanent) of artificial intelligence; rather, it rests on a claim that, for what are broadly 'economic' reasons, it will continue to make economic sense to create machines that are idiots-savants.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by University of Connecticut, Department of Economics in its series Working papers with number 2002-20.
Length: 43 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2002
Date of revision:
Publication status: Forthcoming in Journal of Economic Psychology, special issue in memory of Herbert Simon edited by Mie Augier and James March
Contact details of provider:
Postal: University of Connecticut 341 Mansfield Road, Unit 1063 Storrs, CT 06269-1063
Phone: (860) 486-4889
Fax: (860) 486-4463
Web page: http://www.econ.uconn.edu/
More information through EDIRC
Other versions of this item:
- Langlois, Richard N., 2003. "Cognitive comparative advantage and the organization of work: Lessons from Herbert Simon's vision of the future," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 167-187, April.
- NEP-ALL-2002-11-18 (All new papers)
- NEP-CBE-2002-11-18 (Cognitive & Behavioural Economics)
- NEP-COM-2002-11-18 (Industrial Competition)
- NEP-TID-2002-11-18 (Technology & Industrial Dynamics)
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Young, Allyn A., 1928. "Increasing Returns and Economic Progress," History of Economic Thought Articles, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, vol. 38, pages 527-542.
- Paul L. Robertson & Lee J. Alston, 1992. "Technological choice and the organization of work in capitalist firms," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 45(2), pages 330-349, 05.
- Richard N. Langlois & Metin M. Cosgel, 1996. "The Organization of Consumption," Working papers 1996-07, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
- Langlois, Richard N & Cosgel, Metin M, 1993. "Frank Knight on Risk, Uncertainty, and the Firm: A New Interpretation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 31(3), pages 456-65, July.
- Pratten, Clifford F, 1980. "The Manufacture of Pins," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 93-96, March.
- Babbage, Charles, 1832. "Economy of Machinery and Manufactures," History of Economic Thought Books, McMaster University Archive for the History of Economic Thought, number babbage1832.
- Nelson, Katherine & Nelson, Richard R., 2002. "On the nature and evolution of human know-how," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 719-733, July.
- Cosmides, Leda & Tooby, John, 1994. "Better than Rational: Evolutionary Psychology and the Invisible Hand," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(2), pages 327-32, May.
- Estrada, Fernando, 2010.
"Los mercados de opinión pública
[The markets of public opinion]," MPRA Paper 20161, University Library of Munich, Germany.
- Jackie Krafft & Francesco Quatraro & Pier Saviotti, 2014.
"Knowledge characteristics and the dynamics of technological alliances in pharmaceuticals: empirical evidence from Europe, US and Japan,"
Journal of Evolutionary Economics,
Springer, vol. 24(3), pages 587-622, July.
- Krafft Jackie & Quatraro Francesco & Saviotti Pier Paolo, 2011. "Knowledge characteristics and the dynamics of technological alliances in Pharmaceuticals: Empirical evidence from Europe, US and Japan," Department of Economics and Statistics Cognetti de Martiis LEI & BRICK - Laboratory of Economics of Innovation "Franco Momigliano", Bureau of Research in Innovation, Complexity and Knowledge, Collegio 201113, University of Turin.
- Cordes, Christian & Richerson, Peter J. & McElreath, Richard & Strimling, Pontus, 2008.
"A naturalistic approach to the theory of the firm: The role of cooperation and cultural evolution,"
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization,
Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 125-139, October.
- Christian Cordes & Peter J. Richerson & Richard McElreath & Pontus Strimling, 2006. "A Naturalistic Approach to the Theory of the Firm: The Role of Cooperation and Cultural Evolution," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2006-06, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
- Consoli,Davide & Vona,Francesco & Rentocchini,Francesco, 2014. "That was then, this is now: Skills and Routinization in the 2000s," INGENIO (CSIC-UPV) Working Paper Series 201306, INGENIO (CSIC-UPV).
- Estrada, Fernando, 2010. "Economics and Rationality of organizations: an approach to the work of Herbert A. Simon," MPRA Paper 21811, University Library of Munich, Germany.
- Stracca, Livio, 2004. "Behavioral finance and asset prices: Where do we stand?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 373-405, June.
- Garzarelli, Giampaolo & Limam, Yasmina Reem & Thomassen, Bjørn, 2007. "Open Source Software and Economic Growth: A Classical Division of Labor Perspective," MPRA Paper 3849, University Library of Munich, Germany.
- Richard Langlois, 2013. "The Institutional Revolution: A review essay," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer, vol. 26(4), pages 383-395, December.
- David Harper, 2008. "A bioeconomic study of numeracy and economic calculation," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 101-126, August.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Kasey Kniffin).
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.