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.