CS 286r. Electronic Market Design.

Prof. David C. Parkes

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General Information

This graduate-level seminar is in the design and analysis of electronic markets. Electronic markets have many interesting applications, from the obvious, e.g. dynamic pricing and automated negotiation in e-commerce, to the more intriguing, such as for resource allocation in pervasive computational systems. Many distributed computational systems are adopting characteristics of economies, with agents acting on behalf of self-interested users. The course focuses on resolving computational and economic constraints, and adopts the constructive goal of designing markets with good properties. In particular, we look at the following areas: bidding languages and winner-determination, communication complexity and preference-elicitation, reputation mechanisms, and incentive-compatibility. Along the way, the areas are illustrated with papers on combinatorial auctions, multiattribute auctions, multi-unit auctions, auctions for digital goods, exchanges, and eBay-like reputation mechanisms.

Prerequisites: This course draws on a broad set of ideas, from CS theory, to AI, to economics. Formal requirements include a basic course in linear algebra (such as M 21b, AM 21b, or equivalent), CS 121 (complexity theory) and CS 124 (algorithms), and a course in AI, such as CS 181 or CS 182. Students can petition to substitute an economic theory course for an AI course. A course in advanced algorithms, such as CS 223, Probabilistic algorithms, or CS 226r, Efficient algorithms is preferred but not required. Similarly, knowledge of game theory, microeconomics, and auction theory, is very helpful but not required. Mathematics will be fundamental to the course, and students should expect to learn additional mathematics on their own as necessary. I recommend that students unsure about their background for the course read a couple of papers from the reading list, and attend my office hours during the first week.

Time/Location: The course meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10-11.30am, in Maxwell-Dworkin 221.

Limited Enrollment: Enrollment will be restricted to 20 students to facilitate seminar-style discussion of papers. A form will be distributed in the first class to help with the selection of students, with preference given to graduate students, and students with the strongest background.

Office Hours: Regular hours: Mon Wed 2-3pm, Maxwell-Dworkin 229. Additional early-term office hours: Fri 1/31 10am-12pm; Tue 2/4 1pm-2pm.

Missed Course Materials: Arthur Cram (acram@deas), Maxwell-Dworkin 133.

Course Structure: This is primarily a seminar course, and we will spend most of the term reading and discussing research papers. However, I will take the first 1/4 of the term to lecture around some important background material that will help with understanding the non-CS related material in the papers that we read. Students will be required to complete a few homework sets during this part of the course. Later, when we move to reading papers, students will be expected to read the papers in advance, participate in class discussion, present one of the papers to the class, and complete a project. Good projects will form a foundation for a research paper, or a senior thesis for undergraduates.

Problem Sets 25% 3-4 Short Problem Sets on Introductory Material
Participation 20% Reading papers, submitting short summaries and Qs ahead of class, participation in discussion.
Presentation of a research paper. 15% A short survey and critique.
Project. 40% Proposal, class presentation, and final report.

There will be 3-4 short homework sets during the first four weeks of the term on game theory, mechanism design, and auction theory. The problem sets are designed to help with understanding of the background material that is covered in the introductory lectures.

Readings: There is no set text for this course. Readings will be made available electronically, and also distributed in class.

Submitting comments on papers: When we start reading and discussing research papers, please send comments to cs286r@fas.harvard.edu by midnight before class, with the subject line indicating the paper discussed. Things to think about include (you don't need to hit all of these...):

Presenting papers: Students will present papers in pairs, and should prepare a 30 minute presentation on the paper. We will then break into a discussion of the paper. Students presenting papers must come by to office hours and talk with me about the paper(s) before their presentation.

Course Staff:
Name E-mail Phone Office Hours
David Parkes parkes@eecs.harvard.edu 384-8130 Mon, Wed, 2-3pm, MD 229
Grant Schoenebeck schoeneb@fas.harvard.edu Tues, 4-5.30pm. 1st floor MD lounge


Course Announcements:

Class Project: The goal of the final project is to develop a deep understanding of an important research area, and, to the extent possible, to work on an open research problem. Students may also review an existing area of literature. Although project areas must be approved, the choice is left largely up to the student. Projects may be theoretical or experimental. A list of suggested topics for projects is available. Students are also encouraged to propose a topic of their own for approval. Project proposals are due Thursday, April 3, after Spring Break. Project presentations will be on Monday, May 12, with project reports due on the last day of reading week (Wednesday, May 14) to Arthur Cram in MD 133.

Student Comments: Comments on papers are available here:

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