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Colloquia Series-Jason Hartline

Oct 26
11:00 a.m.
Lopata Hall, Room 101

Data Science and Mechanism Design


Computer systems have become the primary mediator of social and economic interactions.  A defining aspect of such systems is that the participants have preferences over system outcomes and will manipulate their behavior to obtain outcomes they prefer.  Such manipulation interferes with data-driven methods for designing and testing system improvements.  A standard approach to resolve this interference is to infer preferences from behavioral data and employ the inferred preferences to evaluate novel system designs.

In this talk I will describe a method for estimating and comparing the performance of novel systems directly from behavioral data from the original system.  This approach skips the step of estimating preferences and is more accurate.  Estimation accuracy can be further improved by augmenting the original system; its accuracy then compares favorably with ideal controlled experiments, a.k.a., A/B testing, which are often infeasible.  A motivating example will be the paradigmatic problem of designing an auction for the sale of advertisements on an Internet search engine.


Jason Hartline is an associate professor of computer science at Northwestern University. His research introduces design and analysis methodologies from computer science to understand and improve outcomes of economic systems. Optimal behavior and outcomes in complex environments are complex and, therefore, should not be expected; instead, the theory of approximation can show that simple and natural behaviors are approximately optimal in complex environments. This approach is applied to auction theory and mechanism design in his graduate textbook Mechanism Design and Approximation which is under preparation ( Prof. Hartline received his Ph.D. in 2003 from the University of Washington under the supervision of Anna Karlin. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University under the supervision of Avrim Blum; and subsequently a researcher at Microsoft Research in Silicon Valley. He joined Northwestern University in 2008.

Organizer / Host: Eugene Vorobeychik