WashU computer scientist considers competition's effect on social welfare

What do financial markets, kidney donation and online searches for consumer products have in common?

Sanmay Das
Sanmay Das

They are all environments in which competition between the platforms where people and artificial agents come together to trade can have a significant effect on social welfare. An engineer at Washington University in St. Louis will explore these effects using novel modeling methods through a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sanmay Das, associate professor of computer science & engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science, received a three-year, $429,600 grant to combine an interdisciplinary mix of computer science, economics and operations research, including computational game theory and multi-agent simulation to model the dynamics of competing platforms in the financial markets, kidney exchange and e-commerce searches.

In the financial markets, Das and members of his lab will consider whether high-frequency trading, a computer-algorithm-based rapid form of trading, is beneficial or costly to society. If they find it is costly, they will determine if there are incentives to trading agencies to change to other market platforms and eliminate the incentives for high-frequency trading.

Kidney exchanges allow patients who are unable to receive a kidney from a relative or friend to receive a living-donor kidney through an exchange between incompatible donor-recipient pairs. Das and his team will investigate whether the frequency that these exchanges run their matching algorithms prevents more matches from being made and if it disproportionately affects certain types of patients. If so, they will look at incentives that would encourage the exchanges to wait longer between searches.

Finally, in online search platforms that allow consumers to search for tangible or intangible goods, Das and his team will look at the role played by the information provided to consumers in these searches.

"We expect that our research will have policy implications in each of the three areas we will focus on and could affect the design and regulation of each of these areas long-term," Das said.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.