Learning Auctions with Robust Incentive Guarantees

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Jacob D. Abernethy, Rachel Cummings, Bhuvesh Kumar, Sam Taggart, Jamie H. Morgenstern


We study the problem of learning Bayesian-optimal revenue-maximizing auctions. The classical approach to maximizing revenue requires a known prior distribution on the demand of the bidders, although recent work has shown how to replace the knowledge of a prior distribution with a polynomial sample. However, in an online setting, when buyers can participate in multiple rounds, standard learning techniques are susceptible to \emph{strategic overfitting}: bidders can improve their long-term wellbeing by manipulating the trajectory of the learning algorithm in earlier rounds. For example, they may be able to strategically adjust their behavior in earlier rounds to achieve lower, more favorable future prices. Such non-truthful behavior can hinder learning and harm revenue. In this paper, we combine tools from differential privacy, mechanism design, and sample complexity to give a repeated auction that (1) learns bidder demand from past data, (2) is approximately revenue-optimal, and (3) strategically robust, as it incentivizes bidders to behave truthfully.