Reporting from SoCal NEGT

Last week, USC hosted our annual Southern California Network Economics and Game Theory (NEGT) workshop.  (Thanks to David Kempe and Shaddin Dughmi for all the organization this year!)  It’s always a very fun workshop, and really does a great job in ensuring a multidisciplinary community around CS, EE, and Econ in the LA area.  We’ve been doing it for so long now that the faculty & students really know each other well at this point…

As always, there were lots of great talks.  In particular, we had a great set of keynotes again this year.

The first keynote was Ashish Goel, who gave an inspiring talk about his work on “Crowdsourced democracy” where he has managed an incredible thing.  He has built a system for participatory budgeting (the process where the community votes on particular social works projects and the outcome of the voting actually determines budget priorities).  His system has now been used in a wide variety of cities, and whenever it’s used, he’s gotten to run experiments outside of the voting that allow him to gather data about the effectiveness of a variety of platform designs for participatory voting.  This in turn has motivated some deep theoretical work on the efficiency of different platform designs, which looks like it has the possibility of impacting real practice in the coming years!  It is truly an exciting place where theory and practice are intertwined — and where a researcher is really attacking a problem of crucial societal importance.

The second keynote came from Kevin Leyton-Brown, who also gave a truly ambitious talk about work he’s pursuing that takes a look at the foundations of game theoretic models — questioning the standard models of game theory.  Kevin’s work typically takes a hard look at the interactions of theoretical and practical issues in algorithmic game theory, and this does the same.  It questions the typical theoretical abstractions about agent behavior and strives to build better models of how people actually react in strategic settings.  It is great to see someone from the computer side of algorithmic game theory getting engaged in the behavioral economic side of things — this is an area of economics that is, to this point, fairly untouched by computer scientists.

Of course, there were lots of interesting talks from the “locals” too, but I’ll stop here.  We’ve now been doing this for seven years, and I’m so glad that it’s going strong — I’m looking forward to trucking over to UCLA for next year’s incarnation!

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