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Posts Tagged ‘video’

Pricing Parking Spots in SF

The city of San Fransisco is experimenting with a new parking system that adjusts parking prices according to demand.  This demand is measured using newly installed sensors.  I predict a huge success, especially if they increase the upper bound of $6/hour on prices.

[Via NYT, Engadget, Cheaptalk]

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Outsourcing and CS education

The academic year has started today at the Hebrew University and I couldn’t help wondering what all our CS graduates will be doing ten or twenty years after graduation.  With the amazing rise of technology and science in much of the third developing world, their world-wide competition will be tough.  Will their software engineering jobs be outsourced too?   The current situation does not seem at equilibrium:

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The essence of algorithms is that of combining simple operations as to solve complex problems.  Key is that everything should be completely well defined: the available simple operations, how they may be combined, the complex problem, and the correctness of your solution.  Elegance is bridging a large semantic gap: the simpler and fewer the operations and the farther from them the problem seems to be, the more we are impressed.  The simpler the solutions turn out to be, the more we are impressed.

I have just been introduced to a web site that gets as close to this essence as anything that I’ve seen: RoboZZle.  The problems are given by mazes, where the goal to pick all “stars” on the maze.  You must instruct a “robot” to do so, using very few commands: turn left or right, go forward, call a subroutine, do one of the above conditioned on the color of the square that you are on, or change the color of the square that you are on.  That’s it.  Programs must be very short, usually around half a dozen commands, and are entered, debugged, and run very easily graphically.  Amazingly, this is enough for a multitude of interesting challenges, ranging from ones that are easy for kids, to ones that baffle me (despite the solution being of length 5).

These puzzles give you the main intellectual ingredients of algorithms and programming: not only using loops and conditionals but also abstraction (defining subroutines) and recursion.  Check it out or, better, have your kids do so.

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Fisher Model of Markets

Much of the recent theoretical computational work on market equilibrium uses the, so called, Fisher Model (see chapters 5 and 6 of the AGT book or talks and papers on Vijay Vazirani’s home page.)  The model is somewhat simpler than Arrow-Debreu markets in that one party, the seller, brings into the market all goods except for money, which is the only thing that the others bring.  This seemingly small variation seems to make handling it more tractable. In his ALGO invited talk, Vijay opined that Irving Fisher, the model’s father, is somewhat forgotten today probably due to his famous words just days before the stock market crash of 1929: “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Vijay pointed out that Fisher’s comments just a little later are captured on youtube:

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A “textbook system” based on social choice theory would have a centralized mechanism interacting with multiple software agents, each of them representing  a user.  The centralized mechanism would be designed to optimize some global goal (such as revenue or social welfare) and each software agent would elicit the preferences of its user and then optimize according to user preferences.

Among other irritating findings, behavioral economics also casts doubts on this pretty picture, questioning the very notion that users have preferences; that is preferences that are independent of the elicitation method.  In the world of computation, we have a common example of this “framing” difficulty: the default.  Users rarely change it, but we can’t say that they actually prefer the default to the other alternative since if we change the default then they stick with the new one.  Judicious choice of defaults can obviously be used for the purposes of the centralized mechanism (default browser = Internet explorer); but what should we do if we really just want to make the user happy?  What does this even mean?

The following gripping talk by Dan Ariely demonstrates such issues.

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The current “killer application” for algorithmic game theory is certainly on-line advertising. The traditional advertising industry is  undergoing great turmoil due to this on-line advertising as well as other technological changes which may not only give viewers more relevant and less annoying ads, but also may start addressing the main problem from the point of view of advertisers, captured by the famous quote  “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”.

This highly entertaining video is from the point of view of traditional advertising (thanks to Eyal Manor for the link).

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(Thanks to Eyal Winter for the link.)

 

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