Friday, April 29, 2016

Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen channel Condorcet on American and Indian politics, in the NY Times

How Majority Rule Might Have Stopped Donald Trump

Zurich celebrates Tuomas Sandholm: Symposium on Electronic Market Design

A symposium and more in honor of Tuomas Sandholm:


The symposium will take place at the Department of Education of the University of Zurich (building KAB), at Kantonsschulstrasse 3, 8001 Zurich in room G-01 (interactive map).
A map is available below.


14:00 - 15:00Prof. Tuomas Sandholm
Carnegie Mellon University, USA
Keynote: Journey and new results in combinatorial auctions, automated mechanism design for revenue maximization, and kidney exchanges
15:00 - 15:45Prof. Martin Bichler
TU Munich, Germany
All models are wrong, but some are useful: About spectrum auction design and challenges in market design
15:45 - 16:15Coffee Break
16:15 - 17:00Prof. Sven Seuken
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Designing better combinatorial auctions: Algorithms, incentives, and bidding languages
17:00 - 17:45Prof. Axel Ockenfels
University of Cologne, Germany
Engineering trust on eBay

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stanford celebrates Paul Milgrom and the Incentive Auction "Dream Team"

New on the SIEPR webpage, by Krysten Crawford: To secure a mobile future, Stanford expert creates an auction like no other (the url is more informative than the headline:

"More than two decades ago, Stanford economist Paul Milgrom played a key role in the design of the first wireless spectrum auction. Since then, the framework he helped create has been used in more than 80 auctions in the United States, generated billions of dollars in government licensing fees — and been replicated around the world.

"So it made sense for the Federal Communications Commission to tap Milgrom in 2011 when the agency needed a new way to free up more broadband for mobile devices. It took him and a small band of fellow economists and computer scientists 18 months to design the auction, which finally opened last month after years of regulatory procedures, software development and presentations to potential bidders.

"When the auction ends later this year, the country’s wireless landscape will never look the same.
"For help, Milgrom pulled together an interdisciplinary “dream team” of top experts in economics and computer science: Jonathan Levin, also a SIEPR senior fellow and faculty member in economics; Ilya Segal, a professor of economics at Stanford; and Kevin Leyton-Brown, a computer scientist at the University of British Columbia who earned his PhD from Stanford."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hank Greely on future possibilities for human reproduction

One of the 2012 Nobel Laureates in Medicine was Shinya Yamanaka whose work allows stem cells to be generated from skin cells. My Stanford colleague Hank Greely has now written a book, The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction, contemplating some of the possibilities--some of them possibly repugnant transactions--for human reproduction. Here's a Stanford news article: Changes in human reproduction raise legal, ethical issues, Stanford scholar says

"Yet, by the same token, the ability to make gametes from skin cells might have some undesirable consequences. For example, Greely pointed out that someone could take a paper coffee cup that you casually tossed in the trash and turn you into a parent without your knowledge or consent.
“We probably need some laws to deal with that; unconsenting parenthood seems like a bad idea,” Greely said. 

Complicated questions

One possibility he proposes would be to require documentation of the provenance of any cells used to derive eggs or sperm.
“I think there are a lot of complicated questions, and for some of them, there is no particular law book to turn to,” Greely said.
Fairness is a central issue, Greely said. What if some people have access to the technology and others don’t? He predicts that in rich countries this child-making process will be subsidized, making it effectively free for prospective parents.
“In part,” he said, that will happen “because it will save the health care system a lot of money. You don’t need to prevent the births of very many really sick babies to pay for hundreds or thousands of attempts at making babies through easy PGD.”
But even so, there will certainly be international disparities, and possibly national ones as well. 

People with disabilities

Greely also raises challenging issues with respect to people with disabilities.
“If you’ve got a genetic disease and this means far fewer people are going to be born with your disease, well, in one sense that’s a good thing, but in another sense that lowers the research interest in your disease, the social support for your disease, and it kind of says your society thinks you shouldn’t have been born,” he said.
Citing the examples of heritable deafness and dwarfism, he noted that it’s plausible that parents would want a child like them.
“If a parent deafened a living baby, we’d certainly take the baby away and we’d prosecute the parent. If parents choose an embryo because it’s deaf, like themselves, in order to preserve deaf culture from genocide, what do we do then?”
Greely seeks to spark broad discussions about policies regarding these issues.
“I think something that changes the way we conceive babies affects everyone in such basic ways that it’s not a topic that should be left solely to the law professors or to the bioethicists or to the ob-gyns or to the fertility clinics,” he said.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Theory and application, and age...

An op-ed yesterday by Manil Suri in the NY Times, celebrating the 90th birthday of the mathematician Ivo Babuska, was in part a meditation on "pure" versus applied math, that should ring a bell for economists and game theorists too: The Mathematician’s 90th-Birthday Party.

Suri contrasts Babuska's career with the famous views of G.H. Hardy (he of "A Mathematician's Apology")

"Hardy believed that the only important questions in the field arose internally from this game, that the sole purpose of a mathematician was to create beautiful and “almost wholly useless” theorems.

"But ever since its inception, mathematics has also been driven by another powerful force: applications. From the early commerce and measurement needs that motivated the Sumerians to the subject’s symbiotic co-development with physics, mathematical inquiry has been spurred by questions from external fields. Although Hardy disparaged any math that could be applied to real life as “ugly,” “dull” and “trivial,” surely usefulness should be an additional measure for a mathematician’s worth?
"Hardy dismissed exposition as “work for second-rate minds,” but such activity is critical for a field notoriously inept at communicating its results to outsiders.

"It’s of course unfair to criticize Hardy, given how much the world has changed since his day. The division he created between “beautiful but useless” and “useful but ugly” mathematics has long been breached; even his own “useless” research area of number theory has become essential in cryptography and cybersecurity. Conversely, many elegant and aesthetically pleasing mathematical theories have emerged from the most utilitarian applications — even from the analysis of machine parts, as I can personally attest.

"Let’s cherish Hardy’s theorems, not his opinions, and recognize mathematics as a field with diverse goals and needs, where people can expect to make useful contributions regardless of gender or age."

Monday, April 25, 2016

The first successful heart-lung transplantation

"On March 9, 1981, just minutes past midnight, Mary Gohlke, a 45-year-old Arizona woman dying of primary pulmonary hypertension, was wheeled into a Stanford Hospital operating room for a heart-lung transplant surgery that would become a medical milestone.
"Lung transplants were technically feasible, but no human lung transplant patient had survived more than 23 days. The only antirejection drugs then approved for use interfered with the healing of the surgical wounds where new lungs connected to the patient’s airway. After Gohlke read a newspaper story about the successful heart-lung transplants Stanford cardiothoracic surgeon Bruce Reitz, MD, had done on rhesus monkeys, she telephoned him. Reitz took the call. She asked him how many heart-lung transplants he planned to do that year on humans. He said 10. She told him she’d like to be the tenth so she “could see how the rest of them turn out,” and Reitz responded with a chuckle.

"The holdup, however, was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It had approved a better antirejection drug, cyclosporin A, for heart-transplant patients, but not for other transplant patients.  Stanford had asked the FDA to approve cyclosporin A for heart-lung transplant patients, too — and then waited and waited. Gohlke, increasingly desperate, asked her former boss, the executive editor of the Mesa Tribune, to help. He made calls to then-U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Arizona, and about an hour later the FDA approved the drug for use in heart-lung transplantation at all qualified hospitals. Gohlke received her new heart and lungs — becoming the first patient in the world to undergo a successful heart-lung transplant — and lived for five years with her new organs."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Discriminatory pricing for discriminatory services

I remember initially being surprised that security lines at airlines would be shorter for higher fare travelers, but Americans are getting used to class distinctions. The NY Times has this story, focused on cruise ships: In an Age of Privilege, Not Everyone Is in the Same Boat: "Companies are becoming adept at identifying wealthy customers and marketing to them, creating a money-based caste system."

"In theory, according to Steve Tadelis, a professor of economics at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley, “when an industry is able to create a richer line of products for people looking to spend their money, that makes everybody happier. But getting it right in reality is very, very hard.”

"As companies separate their clientele, a debate has developed over just how obvious the distinctions should be. Some experts, like David Clarke, who works with leisure industry giants as a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, say that it is best to be open about what amounts to a money-based caste system.

“It’s about transparency,” he said. “What customers hate is when you’re trying to hide stuff and are not being honest with them.”

"Many companies, though, have discovered that offering ordinary customers just a whiff of the rarefied air can actually enhance the bottom line, even if it stirs a certain amount of envy and resentment.
"Even though this kind of pampering might be good for business, and delight those on the right side of the velvet rope, the gap between the privileged and the rest may ultimately leave everyone feeling uneasy, said Barry J. Nalebuff, a professor of management at Yale.

“If I’m in the back of the plane, I want to hiss at the people in first class,” said Mr. Nalebuff, who has advised many Fortune 100 companies. “If I’m up front, I cringe as people walk by.”

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Engineer as Economist (in Danish)

Here's a Danish article on market design, motivated by the design of electricity markets among others:
Ingeniøren som markedsdesigner   (The Engineer as market designer)
Af Rasmus Jenle

Google Translate renders the final paragraph as follows:

"Now the engineer then stepped into the role of market designer. This raises a number of important questions. How and to what extent will the involvement of market design affect the engineering profession? What will it do for the use, understanding and the effects of markets that now they are designed by engineers and implemented as control systems? How could go on. One thing is certain: the Polytechnic is not what it has been."