The Hardware Lottery
Hardware, systems and algorithms research communities have historically had
different incentive structures and fluctuating motivation to engage with each
other explicitly. This historical treatment is odd given that hardware and
software have frequently determined which research ideas succeed (and fail).
This essay introduces the term hardware lottery to describe when a research
idea wins because it is suited to the available software and hardware and not
because the idea is superior to alternative research directions. Examples from
early computer science history illustrate how hardware lotteries can delay
research progress by casting successful ideas as failures. These lessons are
particularly salient given the advent of domain specialized hardware which
makes it increasingly costly to stray off of the beaten path of research ideas.