CS-700. Computational Mechanism Design.

Prof. David C. Parkes

schedule | announcements | assignments | projects

Time and Location

Tuesday, 14:15-17:00. BC04. First class: Tuesday, Sep-23.
Contact: David Parkes email:parkes - at - eecs . harvard . edu Office: INR 210

General Information

Computational mechanism design is a topic of study at the interface between computer science and economics. The problem domain considers distributed open systems with self-interested agents that will deviate from suggested behavior if this can improve outcomes in their individual favor. The focus of this graduate seminar is on sponsored search, combinatorial auctions, and dynamic issues. Topics covered include incentive-compatibility, characterization theorems, VCG mechanism, budget concerns, best-response dynamics, bidding languages, generalized second price and user models, and dynamic mechanisms.

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 few lectures of the term to lecture around some important background material that will help with understanding the economic concepts 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 (or more) papers to the class, and complete a final project. Very good projects will form a foundation for a research paper.

Required prior knowledge: Microeconomic theory or artificial intelligence, discrete mathematics. Background in game theory useful but not necessary. Talk to me about your background if you are unsure!

The tools used are drawn from discrete algorithms, artificial intelligence, linear programming and duality, game theory, discrete optimization, and mathematical economics. Many related papers can be found at the Harvard econcs web page.

Office Hours: 1pm-3.30pm, Thursdays, in INR 210
1-2.30pm for students presenting papers the following week

Rough Grading Guidelines:
Problem Sets 25% 2-3 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 2-3 short homework sets during the first three weeks 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. Additional references include:

Submitting comments on papers: When we start reading and discussing research papers, please send comments to tbd@tbd 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 likely present papers in pairs, and should prepare a 30 minute presentation on the paper. Presentations will be followed by a discussion. Students presenting papers must come by to office hours and talk with me about the paper(s) before their presentation.


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.

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