CS ∩ Econ news

Here are some news items about the field with no name (at least not yet, see below) that lies at the intersection of computer science and economics.

  1. The Sixth Workshop on Ad Auctions is soliciting papers. The workshop will be held June 8, 2010, in Cambridge, MA, in conjunction with the ACM Conference on Electronic Commerce (EC’10). There is a terrific organizing committee this year spanning industry and academia, CS and business schools.
  2. The EC’10 list of accepted papers is out and looks great.
  3. The first-ever Behavioral and Quantitative Game Theory Conference on Future Directions will be held May 14-16 in Newport Beach, CA. The program looks fantastic.
  4. Last fall, the University of Pennsylvania announced the first-ever undergraduate degree program in Market and Social Systems Engineering. Kudos to UPenn: the move shows impressive vision and leadership.
  5. The NSF is funding research in the CS-Econ area. They support efforts to “explore the emerging interface between computer science and economics, including algorithmic game theory, automated mechanism design, computational tractability of basic economic problems, and the role of information, trust, and reputation in markets” (page 7).
  6. The NBER Market Design working group is soliciting papers for a workshop October 8-9, 2010 in Cambridge, MA.
  7. We are now reviewing some amazing submissions to Yahoo!’s 2010 Key Scientific Challenges program. Read the challenges for the area we call Algorithmic Economics.
  8. Members of Yahoo! Labs can submit proposals to fund collaborative research with academic colleagues through the Yahoo! Faculty Research and Engagement program. If you’re interested, contact a Yahoo! Labs employee.

What should be the name? CS ∩ Econ is accurate but cryptic. At Yahoo!, we call it Algorithmic Economics. At Google, they call it Market Algorithms. The ACM Special Interest Group in this area calls it Electronic Commerce, causing complaints every year. I’ve heard people suggest Economics and Computation. The name Algorithmic Game Theory has emerged as something of a standard within the CS theory community. [Update: Noam suggests Algorithmic Game Theory and Economics and even renamed his blog accordingly.] The phrase Computational Economics makes sense but is already in use by a different field. A fun suggestion is Economatics (or Autonomics), meant to invoke a mashup of economics and automation.

Prediction markets had a similar naming/identity crisis. They’ve been called information markets, idea markets, securities markets, event markets, binary options, market in uncertainty, and more. But now almost everyone has settled on prediction markets. I’ve come to like the name and I think it’s helped establish the field in it’s own right. I hope we can settle on a good name for CS ∩ Econ in part so we can create the Journal of PerfectNameForCSEcon, an outlet sorely missing from the field.

Update 2011/10/11: The journal now exists! Called the ACM Transactions on Economics and Computation, it circumvented the naming issue.

8 thoughts on “CS ∩ Econ news”

  1. *** I left this comment on Noam’s blog as well ***

    I like the sound of “Algorithmic Economics”, but I am afraid non-algorithms folks — database or data mining, machine learning, even programming languages and logic people who are for example studying bidding languages — might feel left out. Also, “Algorithmic Economics” may not encourage empirical studies. Apologies, I dont have other viable suggestions (Economics and Computing? Computing is in ACM title, Also SIAM J. Computing, ….).

    – Metoo

    ps: Market Algorithms fit the local context of Research in Google, but may not have broader fit.

  2. Somehow I initially forgot the name Algorithmic Game Theory, probably the closest we have to a standard within CS theory, and have now added it to the list.

    I also updated it with Noam’s suggestion on his blog: Algorithmic Game Theory and Economics. Noam even changed the name of his blog to this.

    Metoo: I agree it’s not inclusive enough and I also can’t think of a good alternative that is.

    A fun one I was playing around with before is Economatics (or the reverse Autonomics, I think via Lance), as in economics+automation. I added that to the post too.

  3. It’s a difficult but important question. The question of a name for a journal aside, I think we should have a wide interpretation of “computational economics” that includes us as well as the “original” computational economics people. Here’s why I think that. These are just some things written out as I’m thinking about them, probably not everyone will agree (and I myself might not agree tomorrow…), I’m certainly happy to listen to opposing opinions.

    - I think “algorithmic game theory” sounds too narrow if it is intended to describe *everything* that we do. It runs the risk of some important lines of research not being pursued. I don’t think economists use quite that wide an interpretation of the phrase “game theory.” For example, I don’t think it makes sense to consider prediction markets “part of” (algorithmic) game theory. Game theory is a useful tool for the analysis of prediction markets, but there’s a lot more going on.

    Also (less significantly), the “algorithmic” part slightly pushes it towards theoretical computer science. While of course much of the important work in our area is done by theoretical computer scientists, and this should continue to be the case, we don’t (well, certainly I don’t) want to exclude the AI and systems people….

    Perhaps more importantly, we need to think about what the name conveys to outsiders, in particular other computer scientists. For example, it doesn’t sound very compelling to argue for hiring in “algorithmic game theory.” At best, the immediate reaction might be, “If we’re going to hire a theory person anyway, I guess it might be nice if they do algorithmic game theory.” On the other hand, “computational economics” is a phrase at the same level as “computational biology,” as I think it should be. It sounds much more compelling that you should seriously consider hiring in computational economics. And I think this is not just a clever marketing gimmick, rather I think that what we do (and could do) really is broad and significant enough that it ought to be seen at the same level as comp bio.

    – “Algorithmic economics” is already much better than AGT (as a description of the whole area). A downside is that it may be interpreted as that algorithmic economics is necessarily a part of theoretical computer science. Again, while theoretical computer scientists should and will continue to play a leading role, I don’t think it’s wise to completely restrict it that way. By analogy, “algorithmic biology” or “artificial intelligence and biology” would (unnecessarily) sound more restricted and would probably make it more difficult to argue for hiring in that area than “computational biology,” for no good reason.

    – It really seems too confusing to say that “economics and computation” (or some variant with an intersection symbol) is different from “computational economics.”

    – “Electronic Commerce” — I don’t mind keeping the name of the conference the same for historical reasons, but of course it’s not an accurate description of everything we do.

    – As you’ve pointed out, the main downside of “computational economics” is that other people have already started using this phrase. But note that they (comp-econ.org) seem to (correctly, IMO) have a very wide interpretation of this phrase, including topics in finance, macroeconomics, and econometrics — but also things like “computational tools for the design of automated Internet markets.” I think it doesn’t make any sense at all to say that the computer scientists working on economics are not part of computational economics! I think we should politely claim our rightful place under the phrase “computational economics,” and the other community may not mind at all — but perhaps we should engage this other community more, and also think more about whether we can in fact make ourselves useful in topics in macro, econometrics, etc. Actually, this may be more important than our struggles with finding a name.

    For me at a personal level, when I came to Duke, there was already a strong sense that I would be working in “computational economics,” doubtlessly encouraged by the fact that we have a strong computational biology presence and the parallel is natural (and now we also have a computational economics minor). I went along with that vision (which I think is a good one), though I have tried to make it clear that I work on computational MICROeconomics — I don’t do any macro or econometrics — and I think this mitigates the issue of a conflict with the existing comp econ people. (In fact, weren’t some Yahoo! people using the phrase “computational microeconomics” at some point before me?) Naturally, computational microeconomics should be a part of computational economics. The use of the phrase “computational (micro)economics” makes it much easier to convey the generality of what we do and might do to outsiders, rather than being forced to explain that “algorithmic game theory” should really be interpreted very broadly in spite of its inaccurately narrow-sounding name.

    If we want to build our area, I think it’s much better to say we work in computational economics (and also honestly assess which part of computational economics that is, seriously engage with economists as well as other people who consider themselves to work in computational economics, and ask ourselves whether we are doing everything we should), rather than skirting the issue and just defining our area as something more narrow and separate (which doesn’t make sense) and engaging with economists only when we feel like it.

    Of course, this is not to say that all of us must now start working on macro and econometrics and all sorts of other topics. It’s more about where we see ourselves fit in the bigger picture. In particular, a journal intended for the types of things that we do (~ EC conference) could be called something like “Journal of Computer Science and Microeconomic Theory,” though that still may run the risk of excluding some interesting work by computer scientists on non-micro-theory topics.

  4. You got it in there; Economic {Formal} Language if not just Economics. The idea of the pure play been much deprecated, even if it still exists in big hilarious contrary enterprises (e.g. the only clean water for miles, and a coup never dares presume ownership.) So the ‘enterprise’ is perhaps a more reflexive phrase than a prime mover.

    Here are memes, corporations, governments, markets and people of all grades in a generative (on all or good days, depending on the school) bed of turing-completeness, and it’s advancing language more than CS. Until you can do symbolic logic that advances itself!

    yTunesEDGAR made up like science buries the lede of participation. Dismal Scientists were to wait 200 years before claiming their Statistical Abstract on personal interest (e.g. needing nontoxic air) pitching into ridiculously (but not disingenuously) pricey renewables investments, not least to keep the citation pure. Now there are marketing toys and canned RAND (as in corporation, not nondiscriminatory) processes where the interested can prove their cases for waterproofing the Gaza Straits, drawing candidates, copyright trolling, and even never speaking of this again*.

    Speaking creative words is off the hook and out of the hands of the Art Director; that it looks like a systems administration feat does not make it a computer science problem. It does give a nice standard for a baseline multiuser OS as what NYSE runs on….

    *Old Hindu Gods and Republicans are said to be able to un-speak things.

  5. That math wonks (and quants) will be corroborating and/or agitating vulns is the primary distinction of computational ______. Even in Computational Feminism; blam, one day your sine approximation just isn’t up to shine.

  6. A great question! And Vince brings up many excellent points, particularly about how narrow names like Algorithmic Game Theory or E-Commerce appear to the broader CS community. Personally, I like “Algorithmic Economics” more than “Computational Economics” partly because I like the idea of the “algorithmic lens” and the “computational” term seems to have developed a very specific connotation as part of (current) computational economics. But either way, I think it’s important to pick a name, stick with it, and popularize it at some point (and not just so I don’t have to keep saying “I’m interested in problems at the intersection of Computer Science and Economics” all the time!)

    And yes, we need that journal, badly!

  7. Thanks Vince for the thoughtful and detailed comments. I am coming around to your idea of simply adopting computational economics, and not worrying too much about namespace issues… Still thinking…

    Thanks Sanmay. I agree whatever we choose, once it becomes common it will be an important step forward. It seems superficial to worry about the name, but somehow it seems like a barrier to progress.

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