Approximately Optimal Mechanism Design
Posted: 4 Sep 2019
Date Written: August 2019
The field of optimal mechanism design enjoys a beautiful and well-developed theory, as well as several killer applications. Rules of thumb produced by the field influence everything from how governments sell wireless spectrum licenses to how the major search engines auction off online advertising. There are, however, some basic problems for which the traditional optimal mechanism design approach is ill suited—either because it makes overly strong assumptions or because it advocates overly complex designs. This article reviews several common issues with optimal mechanisms, including exorbitant communication, computation, and informational requirements; it also presents several examples demonstrating that relaxing the goal to designing an approximately optimal mechanism allows us to reason about fundamental questions that seem out of reach of the traditional theory.
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