Seminars

NO.158 New Tools for Markets: Information Design and Blockchains

Shonan Village Center

March 16 - 19, 2020 (Check-in: March 15, 2020 )

Organizers

  • Nikhil R. Devanur
    • Microsoft Research, Redmond &University of Washington, USA
  • Nicole Immorlica
    • Microsoft Research, New England & Harvard University, USA
  • Dr. Georgios Piliouras
    • Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore

Overview

Abstract

Markets are undergoing a transformation, moving from being entirely offline entities into ones enabled by an online platform. The field of market design has had tremendous impact on offline markets such as school choice, kidney exchange, and public housing allocation. In recent years, market design has started to address online markets such as dating, ride sharing and advertising. The workshop will foster further contributions to online markets in the market design community by bringing together experts at the forefront of market design along with experts on related technologies such as information design and blockchains.

Description of the meeting

Our focus is on markets with two sides – buyers and sellers; or individuals, like school children, and resources, like public schools. In such settings, there is typically a central authority or platform that solicits inputs from market participants and, either through a decentralized search process or a centralized algorithm, proposes matches. This workshop explores two related directions for advancing these types of markets. The first direction explores the role of information in market outcomes. The second explores the use of blockchain and related technologies to circumvent the need for a central authority.

  • Information Design: Information plays a key role in market design. Information can help participants form their preferences. By exposing match characteristics and match probabilities, a market mechanism can guide participants in the search process. This information acquisition process bears many similarities to models of consumer search including prophet inequalities and/or the Weitzman search process. Our workshop will bring together experts in markets and the mathematics of consumer search to identify information structures that help market participants form preferences without wasting effort. Relatedly, information can impact the selected outcomes and resulting welfare of various participants. Recent literature in mechanism design shows that a regulator can fairly arbitrarily specify the welfare of participants by cleverly releasing partial information about the setting at hand. For example, by telling a seller whether a potential buyer is “rich” or “poor”, the regulator can help the seller price-discriminate and thereby increase the welfare of the average buyer. The platform typically has to balance the interests of the two sides of the market (which may not align), as well as its own interest in sustaining revenue and market shares. We explore the use of such information structures in this context.
  • Decentralization: Markets by their very nature bring several self-interested parties together and facilitate the exchange of goods, information, and more generally value amongst their participants. Historically, markets typically relied on the existence of a strong central authority as a way of enforcing commitments and creating trust among agents with possibly antithetical interests. The power granted to these centralized authorities, which is necessary for the facilitation of the markets, can also be abused and exploited to introduce inefficiencies (e.g. middlemen costs) as well as unfairness (exclusion and/or preferential treatments of different participants). To some extent these negative externalities have been thought of as inherent structural weaknesses of the markets. Although these weaknesses may be alleviated to some extent, they can never be fully resolved.Blockchains are a radical new technology that enables computation as well as information broadcasting in a truly open decentralized environment. The promise of this technology is that it relieves the need for trust, opening up in principle the potential design space to a wide array of new markets. We aim to expose the basic technological ideas behind blockchains to researchers working traditionally in the space of market design. By bringing together two distinct but intersecting communities we aim to explore the following questions: How does one use this technology to enable collective resource allocation, collective voting, and collective borrowing and lending? In the other direction, we would like to explore the needs of emerging markets impose constraints and design desiderata in the blockchain space.