(I wrote this during the workshop a few weeks ago, and just realized that I never actually hit “publish.” Better late then never, I guess!)
Every year in the fall, all the folks in southern California interested in the intersection of economics and engineering/computer science get together and have a two-day workshop that we call NEGT for “Network Economics and Game Theory.” Hosting duties rotate between USC, UCLA, and Caltech, and this year it was our job. The workshop is just wrapping up and, thanks to our amazing admin Sydney Garstang, everything went wonderfully!
There were lots of great talks, and the slides will eventually start to show up here. Of the many highlights, our two external speakers both gave really great talks. Our first keynote, Tim Roughgarden, gave a great overview of recent results in the area of approximate mechanism design. This is a direction that many folks in the Algorithmic Game Theory community have been pushing on in a while, but Tim showed some very interesting new results. Plus, it is always interesting to see how economists react to this direction, which is very different than the traditional viewpoint. Our second keynote, Markus Mobius, gave a really interesting empirical take on the power of social learning. He showed results from an experiment involving Harvard undergraduates performing a task that required social learning and was able to test various conjectures for how such learning occurs (as well as the magnitude of social learning that occurs). Given the huge focus in CS on models where we learn from our friends, it was quite interesting to see that the magnitude of such social learning is actually pretty small, and seems to occur only in vary specific ways.
The thread of empirically testing theoretical models showed up in a few other talks, too. One that was particularly interesting to me (given our work on market power in electricity markets) was to test the emergence of coalitional behavior in auction settings. Marina Agranov gave an overview of her work on the topic, and the short of it was a very pessimistic message: coalitional exploitation happens even when very little information is available to the participants. This is really an important message for people to keep in mind when designing mechanisms for the real world…
Of course there were lots of other interesting talks, too, but I’ll stop here and just end by saying that I think the thing that hit me the most during the workshop is that local workshops like NEGT can have a big impact. This is the sixth year we’ve held it, and by this point, we really all know each other in SoCal. Regardless of the school or the department (econ/cs/ee/…) people seem to have a really good idea of what everyone’s working on, which has led to lots of interesting cross-institutional and interdisciplinary collaborations.