Maximizing the Social Good: Markets without Money

Date: March 14, 2019
Time: 2:00 pm
Room: DBH 4011
Speaker: Nicole Immorlica 
(Microsoft Research Lab – New Englan)

To create a truly sustainable world, we need to generate ample resources and allocate them appropriately. In traditional economics, these goals are achieved using money. However, in many settings of particular social significance, monetary transactions are infeasible, be it due to ethical considerations or technological constraints. In this talk, we will discuss alternatives to money, including risk, social status, and scarcity, and show how to use them to achieve socially-optimal outcomes. Risk helps determine a person’s value for a resource: the more someone is willing to risk for something, the more they value it. Using this insight, we propose an algorithm to find a good assignment of students in school choice programs. Social status helps motivate people to contribute to a public project. Using this insight, we design badges to maximize contributions to user-generated content websites. Scarcity forces people to evaluate trade-offs, allowing algorithms to infer the relative strength of their preference for different options. Using this insight, we design voting schemes that select the most highly-valued alternative.


Nicole’s research lies broadly within the field of algorithmic game theory. Using tools and modeling concepts from both theoretical computer science and economics, Nicole hopes to explain, predict, and shape behavioral patterns in various online and offline systems, markets, and games. Her areas of specialty include social networks and mechanism design. Nicole received her Ph.D. from MIT in Cambridge, MA in 2005 and then completed three years of postdocs at both Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA and CWI in Amsterdam, Netherlands before accepting a job as an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL in 2008. She joined the Microsoft Research New England Lab in 2012.

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