Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Drone delivery of a kidney for transplant

Here's the press release from the University of Maryland,
Pioneering Breakthrough: University of Maryland's Schools of Medicine and Engineering First to Use Unmanned Aircraft to Successfully Deliver Kidney for Transplant at University of Maryland Medical Center

"BALTIMORE and COLLEGE PARK, MD— In a first-ever advancement in human medicine and aviation technology, a University of Maryland unmanned aircraft has delivered a donor kidney to surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center for successful transplantation into a patient with kidney failure.
"Among the many technological firsts of this effort include: a specially designed, high-tech apparatus for maintaining and monitoring a viable human organ; a custom-built UAS with eight rotors and multiple powertrains to ensure consistently reliable performance, even in the case of a possible component failure; the use of a wireless mesh network to control the UAS, monitor aircraft status, and provide communications for the ground crew at multiple locations; and aircraft operating systems that combined best practices from both UAS and organ transport standards.

“We had to create a new system that was still within the regulatory structure of the FAA, but also capable of carrying the additional weight of the organ, cameras, and organ tracking, communications, and safety systems over an urban, densely populated area—for a longer distance and with more endurance,” said Matthew Scassero, MPA, director of UMD’s UAS Test Site, part of A. James Clark School of Engineering. "

HT: Alex Chan

Monday, April 29, 2019

Refugee resettlement in the U.S., by HIAS, using matching technology

The Atlantic brings us up to date:
How Technology Could Revolutionize Refugee Resettlement
A software program called “Annie” uses machine learning to place refugees in cities where they are most likely to be welcomed and find success.

"Monken, an associate director at HIAS, a migrant-assistance charity, tells me Njabu and his family were specifically placed in Pittsburgh “because of the high employment probability forecasted by Annie.”

She was referring not to a person, but to a software program. Named for Annie Moore, the Irishwoman who was the first person to pass through Ellis Island, the New York outpost that served as the gateway for millions of immigrants to America, Annie is at the core of an ambitious experiment, one that, were it deployed more widely, could transform how refugees are allocated and treated around the world.
"Developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Lund University in Sweden, and the University of Oxford in Britain, the software uses what’s known as a matching algorithm to allocate refugees with no ties to the United States to their new homes. (Refugees with ties to the United States are resettled in places where they have family or community support; software isn’t involved in the process.)
"The software itself is in its infancy right now. For one, it is lacking in data: HIAS has been using Annie since last summer and has placed about 250 people via the software so far. There’s no exact number on how many refugees Annie must place in order to measure the program’s success. Instead, the software’s efficacy will be measured over several years and through the economic outcomes of the cases that go through the algorithm. Back-testing using data from previous years has yielded promising results, but the real outcomes will take a long time to discover. (Acquiring more data will be its own challenge: The Trump administration’s policy of reducing the number of refugees resettled in the United States means that last year the country accepted fewer refugees, just 22,491, than at any other point since President Jimmy Carter signed the Refugee Act of 1980.)"
Here's a website related to the algorithm and related academic work:

Resettlement that empowers refugees and communities

"Contact Us
If you would like to work with us on designing matching systems for refugee resettlement, please drop us a line."

Here's an earlier post on this work:
Thursday, October 4, 2018

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Hayek at auction at Sothebys

It closed last month, but you can still take a look at the outcome of Sotheby's sale called
Friedrich von Hayek: His Nobel Prize and Family Collection
Sale L19409

"Sotheby’s is honoured to offer the Nobel Prize and Family Collection of Friedrich August von Hayek (1899-1992). Hayek was a towering intellectual figure of the twentieth century and his writings have had a profound impact in shaping the modern world. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1974 for “pioneering work in the theory of money and economic fluctuations”. This month sees the 75th anniversary of his seminal work, The Road to Serfdom."

Despite the title of the sale, Hayek's Nobel medal doesn't seem to have been on offer, although his U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom , awarded by President George H.W. Bush in 1991, went for 112,500 GBP.

The most expensive item was his annotated copy of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, for which the hammer came down at 150,000 GBP.

The auction notes state:
"Hayek’s underlining includes phrases from the first paragraph of Chapter II which reads “This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, through very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” (p.12) and later “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” (p.13)."

I've blogged about previous Nobel auctions:

Thursday, October 27, 2016 Re-auction of Kenneth Wilson's, 1982 Nobel medal for Physics

Thursday, February 26, 2015 Kuznets' Nobel Prize medal auction

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Sniping in soft-close auctions (right before the time that triggers an extension)

From Marketing Letters:

Marketing Letters
pp 1–13Cite as
  • Wen Cao, 
  • Qinyang Sha, 
  • Zhiyong Yao, 
  • Dingwei Gu, 
  • Xiang Shao
Abstract: The existing studies suggest that sniping is an equilibrium strategy in hard-close online auctions, but not in soft-close ones. In this paper, we use a unique, large-scale data set from soft-close Overstock and hard-close eBay to document sniping phenomena under the two different closing rules. Estimation results show that sniping is prominent on both websites, but they are prevalent at different times. On eBay, sniping occurs right before the auction close, while on Overstock sniping happens predominantly in a short window of time before the triggering period, during which any additional high bid automatically extends the online auction. Furthermore, the revenue effect of sniping is significantly stronger on Overstock than on eBay.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Repugnant blood samples (for gender testing in pregnancy) in China

The South China Morning Post has the story: blood samples for gender tests apparently are a leading indicator of abortion of female fetuses:

Chinese blood mule, 12, caught trying to smuggle 142 samples into Hong Kong for sex testing
"Youngster apprehended at Shenzhen port with more than 1.4 litres of blood from expectant mothers in her backpack
Samples had papers requesting DNA tests to show if fetuses were male or female"

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Should NYC school choice diversify school assignments to match applicant demographics?

Some commentators are concerned that features closely correlated with race, for example, can be used in computerized algorithms that don't explicitly use race (see previous two posts here and here). But below is a proposal that sees using features correlated with race as an advantage for achieving diversity in NYC schools, with a view towards making admissions look as diverse as applications.

Here's a report from FastCompany:

How to fix segregation in NYC schools? Let students hack the algorithm
A Nobel Prize winner’s algorithm helps decide which students are placed in which New York schools. A team of students is trying to upgrade it.

"Many of the most desirable, highest-performing schools have a gross disparity between the racial breakdown of who applies versus who eventually attends those schools.

"Data acquired from the Department of Education by IntegrateNYC through a freedom of information request and provided to Fast Company bleakly demonstrates this point. For instance, while white students accounted for one quarter of students who applied in 2017 to Beacon High School, 42% of that Fall’s freshman class was white. At Eleanor Roosevelt High School, 16% of applicants that year were black, yet less than 1% of admitted students were black.
"Part of the problem is that the education children receive from kindergarten to eighth grade is not equal. Students who live in more affluent, largely white neighborhoods have better middle schools, which better prepare students for high school entrance exams. Students from wealthier families are also more likely to be able to afford private test prep for their students. But the city’s current admissions process does nothing to correct this.
"The solution students came up with was to create a new matchmaking algorithm that prioritizes factors highly correlated with race such as a student’s census tract, whether they receive free or reduced-price lunch, and whether English is their second language. Such an algorithm would boost disadvantaged students higher up in the matchmaking process, provided they have already passed a school’s screening process."

In NYC, school principals have a lot of agency in determining the input of the school matching algorithm, in the form of preference lists for their schools. The city (i.e. the NYCDOE) provides guidelines for schools. So another approach to achieving more and different diversity would be to provide different guidelines and requirements for schools, that would change the inputs to the matching algorithm (the schools' rank order lists of students), rather than trying to modify the algorithm. My guess is that this would be a more effective, nuanced, and flexible approach.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Insurance, privacy, surveillance, algorithms, and repugnance

The NY Times is on the case:

Insurers Want to Know How Many Steps You Took Today
The cutting edge of the insurance industry involves adjusting premiums and policies based on new forms of surveillance.
By Sarah Jeong

"Last year, the life insurance company John Hancock began to offer its customers the option to wear a fitness tracker — a wearable device that can collect information about how active you are, how many calories you burn, and how much you sleep. The idea is that your Fitbit or Apple Watch can tell whether or not you’re living the good, healthy life — and if you are, your insurance premium will go down.
"artificial intelligence is known to reproduce biases that aren’t explicitly coded into it. In the field of insurance, this turns into “proxy discrimination.” For example, an algorithm might (correctly) conclude that joining a Facebook group for a BRCA1 mutation is an indicator of high risk for a health insurance company. Even though actual genetic information — which is illegal to use — is never put into the system, the algorithmic black box ends up reproducing genetic discrimination.

"A ZIP code might become a proxy for race; a choice of wording in a résumé might become a proxy for gender; a credit card purchase history can become a proxy for pregnancy status. Legal oversight of insurance companies, which are typically regulated by states, mostly looks at discrimination deemed to be irrational: bias based on race, sex, poverty or genetics. It’s not so clear what can be done about rational indicators that are little but proxies for factors that would be illegal to consider.
"A. I. research should march on. But when it comes to insurance in particular, there are unanswered questions about the kind of biases that are acceptable. Discrimination based on genetics has already been deemed repugnant, even if it’s perfectly rational. Poverty might be a rational indicator of risk, but should society allow companies to penalize the poor? Perhaps for now, A.I.’s more dubious consumer applications are better left in a laboratory."

HT: Julio Elias

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Ethical algoritms: a recent talk and a forthcoming book

Increasingly, algorithms are decision makers. Here's a recent talk, and a book forthcoming in October, about what we might mean by ethical decision making by algorithms.

And here's the forthcoming book:
 The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design Hardcover – November 1, 2019
by Michael Kearns (Author), Aaron Roth  (Author)

Monday, April 22, 2019

Gun sales in America: both repugnant and protected transactions

Two stories remind me of the special status of gun sales in the U.S., and the corresponding political divisions between those who would like to see them more regulated (i.e. those who regard at least some gun sales as repugnant) and those who see regulation as a threat to the special protections offered guns by the U.S. constitution, whose second amendment states
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

From the NY Times:
When Sheriffs Say No: Disputes Erupt Over Enforcing New Gun Laws

"New Mexico’s governor is feudingwith county sheriffs, accusing them of going “rogue” by refusing to enforce new gun control legislation. Counties in Oregon are passing militia-backed measures against stricter gun laws. Washington State is warning sheriffsthey could face legal action if they don’t run enhanced background checks approved by voters.
"As states have approved dozens of restrictive gun control measures since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last year, efforts to resist such laws have gathered strength around the nation as rural gun owners say their rights are being violated.
"In New Mexico and elsewhere, the disputes generally reflect tension between cities that support stricter gun laws and rural areas that want to bolster protections for gun owners. The pushback against new laws generally seeks to maintain existing gun ownership rights; most have not yet been challenged in court.
"The disputes around the country over the gun control measures raise vexing questions about the rule of law. Governors claim that local sheriffs cannot pick which laws to enforce, but some states have already grappled with low compliance with other gun laws.
A different aspect of the story is addressed by the New Yorker:

"in recent years, burglaries at gun shops and other federal firearms licensees have increased, from three hundred and seventy-seven, in 2012, to five hundred and seventy-seven, in 2017. This is partly because guns are so readily available. There are some sixty-three thousand licensed gun dealers in America—more than twice the number of McDonald’s and Starbucks locations combined. These retailers operate out of storefronts, pawnshops, and homes. (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives doesn’t specify how many dealers are based in homes, but officials say that the majority of thefts occur in brick-and-mortar stores.) Federal regulators have set strict security protocols for other businesses that deal in dangerous products. Pharmacies must lock opioids and other controlled substances in fortified cabinets. Explosives makers have to keep volatile materials in boxes or rooms capable of withstanding explosions. Banks, in order to maintain federal deposit insurance, have to hire security officers. But there are no such requirements for gun stores, and criminals are taking advantage. Between 2012 and 2017, burglars stole more than thirty-two thousand firearms from gun dealers. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

"Rich meet beautiful" site prosecuted in Belgium

The Guardian has the story:

'Sugar daddy' website owner charged with debauchery in Belgium
Norwegian Sigurd Vedal’s site Rich Meet Beautiful promised to help students meet rich men

"The chief executive of a pan-European “sugar daddy” dating site that targeted students with adverts outside Belgian universities last summer has appeared in court charged with debauchery.

"Norwegian Sigurd Vedal, 47, whose website Rich Meet Beautiful claimed to offer a “Fifty Shades of Grey” experience to young women, is being prosecuted following a complaint by the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
"After success in Scandinavia, the Norwegian company behind the website said it aimed to recruit 300,000 Belgian registrations by the end of 2018, but it was forced to end its marketing campaign after an outcry. Similar sites have emerged in the UK targeting female students. The US-based SeekingArrangement.com was found in 2015 to be offering premium membership to users with a university email address.

"Vedal appeared in Brussels criminal court on charges of debauchery, public incitement to debauchery and violating anti-sexism laws."

Earlier post:

Sunday, April 12, 2009  Market for sugar daddies

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Recent innovations in organ donation

Here's a quick summary of novel (and sometimes controversial) ways to organize kidney exchange (global kidney exchange, and advanced donation vouchers), and liver transplantation (including liver exchange, and including kidneys and livers in the same exchange). It's published under the heading "CONTROVERSIES IN ORGAN TRANSPLANTATION".

Evolving  swaps  in  transplantation:  global  exchange,vouchers,  liver,  and  trans-organ  paired  exchange
Alexis  L.  Lo,  Elizabeth  M.  Sonnenberg,  and  Peter  L.  Abt
Current Opinion in Organ Transplantation
Issue: Volume 24(2), April 2019, p 161-166

Purpose of review
With the ongoing organ shortage, several mechanisms to facilitate organ exchanges and expand thescope of living kidney or liver donation have been proposed. Although each addresses at least one barrier to transplantation, these innovative programs raise important ethical, logistical, and regulatory considerations.

Recent findings
This review addresses four recent proposals to expand living donor transplantation. For kidney transplantation, we discuss global paired exchange and advanced donation programs (’vouchers’) and for liver transplantation, liver paired exchange. Lastly, this review considers trans-organ exchange. We explore the conceptual framework of the exchange, current status, benefits, and concerns for  each of these evolving pathways.

Through highlighting novel mechanisms in organ exchange, greater awareness, discussion, or support can occur to create more avenues for transplantation. These innovative mechanisms require regulations and safeguards for donors to ensure informed consent, and proper follow-up is maintained."

Friday, April 19, 2019

Foie gras off the menu (again) in California

The SF Chronicle had the story (and I missed it until now...)

California’s foie gras ban upheld, though chefs vow to fight on
Jonathan Kauffman, Jan. 7, 2019

"After six years of legal battles, California’s ban on foie gras is still in effect.

"The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear a challenge to California’s 2004 ban on the production and sale of foie gras, leaving in place a 2017 ruling upholding it.
"The California law, which went into effect in 2004 but delayed enforcement of the ban until 2012, forced California’s only foie gras producer to close. Some California restaurants continued to serve foie gras, however, claiming they were giving it away to guests. Starting in 2012, groups such as the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, backed by the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller and dozens of other chefs, have supported a series of efforts to overturn the ban, leading to a legal back-and-forth.

"In 2015, U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson ruled that the ban violated the federal Poultry Products Inspections Act,which prohibits states from imposing their own conditions on the sale of poultry. The ruling put foie gras back on Bay Area menus.
"The California state attorney general appealed the ruling, however, and two years later, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed it. However, the court put a stay on the ban so the plaintiffs — two out-of-state foie gras producers and a Los Angeles area restaurant group — could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
That challenge is now effectively dead."

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Dead pigs and live brain cells--with implications still to be understood

Dramatic scientific announcements get press coverage before they are well (or at all) understood, but that can still be exciting.  Here's some press coverage of an article that was published yesterday in Nature about restoring some cellular activity in the brains of pigs which had been slaughtered and decapitated.  It may eventually have implications for brain injuries, brain death and (hence) deceased organ donation.
(The Nature article and two commentaries published with it are also linked below.)

NY Times:
‘Partly Alive’: Scientists Revive Cells in Brains From Dead Pigs
In research that upends assumptions about brain death, researchers brought some cells back to life — or something like it.

"In a study that raises profound questions about the line between life and death, researchers have restored some cellular activity to brains removed from slaughtered pigs.

"The brains did not regain anything resembling consciousness: There were no signs indicating coordinated electrical signaling, necessary for higher functions like awareness and intelligence.

"But in an experimental treatment, blood vessels in the pigs’ brains began functioning, flowing with a blood substitute, and certain brain cells regained metabolic activity, even responding to drugs. When the researchers tested slices of treated brain tissue, they discovered electrical activity in some neurons."

Washington Post:
Scientists restore some brain cell functions in pigs four hours after death
Ethicists advise caution with research that blurs the line between life and death.

"The researchers are mindful that this is controversial territory with great potential to stoke outrage or, simply, the heebie-jeebies. Such a head-snapping experiment inevitably generates nightmarish scenarios involving live brains in vats, brain transplants, the Zombie Apocalypse, and other mad-scientist story lines (brilliantly crafted, somehow, by neurons firing away inside the skulls of conventionally living human beings).
"The findings also lead to ethical quandaries, some of which are outlined in two commentaries simultaneously published by Nature. The ethicists say this research can blur the line between life and death, and could complicate the protocols for organ donation, which rely on a clear determination of when a person is dead and beyond resuscitation."

Researchers 'reboot' pig brains hours after animals died
Scientists say ability to revive some brain functions will not change definition of death

And here's the article in Nature:
Published: 17 April 2019

Restoration of brain circulation and cellular functions hours post-mortem
Zvonimir Vrselja, Stefano G. Daniele, John Silbereis, Francesca Talpo, Yury M. Morozov, André M. M. Sousa, Brian S. Tanaka, Mario Skarica, Mihovil Pletikos, Navjot Kaur, Zhen W. Zhuang, Zhao Liu, Rafeed Alkawadri, Albert J. Sinusas, Stephen R. Latham, Stephen G. Waxman & Nenad Sestan
Naturevolume 568, pages336–343 (2019) | Download Citation

The brains of humans and other mammals are highly vulnerable to interruptions in blood flow and decreases in oxygen levels. Here we describe the restoration and maintenance of microcirculation and molecular and cellular functions of the intact pig brain under ex vivo normothermic conditions up to four hours post-mortem. We have developed an extracorporeal pulsatile-perfusion system and a haemoglobin-based, acellular, non-coagulative, echogenic, and cytoprotective perfusate that promotes recovery from anoxia, reduces reperfusion injury, prevents oedema, and metabolically supports the energy requirements of the brain. With this system, we observed preservation of cytoarchitecture; attenuation of cell death; and restoration of vascular dilatory and glial inflammatory responses, spontaneous synaptic activity, and active cerebral metabolism in the absence of global electrocorticographic activity. These findings demonstrate that under appropriate conditions the isolated, intact large mammalian brain possesses an underappreciated capacity for restoration of microcirculation and molecular and cellular activity after a prolonged post-mortem interval.
Here are two commentaries published in the same issue of Nature:
Part-revived pig brains raise slew of ethical quandaries
Researchers need guidance on animal use and the many issues opened up by a new study on whole-brain restoration, argue Nita A. Farahany, Henry T. Greely and Charles M. Giattino.

Pig experiment challenges assumptions around brain damage in people
The restoration of some structures and cellular functions in pig brains hours after death could intensify debates about when human organs should be removed for transplantation, warn Stuart Youngner and Insoo Hyun.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A wedding while expecting "twiblings"

The NY Times has a very 21st century wedding announcement, of two husbands who both wanted to be fathers. Read it all here and feel proud to be human:
And You Thought Your Family Was Modern

Here's the surrogacy bit:

"Dr. Luo, 40, known for his meticulous organizational skills, created a database to track the multiple agencies, fertility doctors, legal issues, egg donors and surrogates involved in fulfilling the couple’s dream of having children.

"However comprehensive, Dr. Luo’s document could not calculate the many emotional ups and downs on the San Francisco couple’s journey to parenthood.

"Yet if all goes as planned, come September, after three years, the involvement of three women, and a significant financial investment — about $300,000 — the couple will be changing diapers for two babies. A boy and a girl, conceived with eggs from the same donor, will each be tied biologically to one of the men. In today’s parlance, they’ll be “twiblings.

“We’re living our version of our parents’ American dreams,” said Dr. Luo..."

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Glitch in NYC high school admissions this year

An alert NYC parent points me to this account in the WSJ:

Top New York City School Makes Big Admissions Error
NYC Lab School had to rerank applicants after an error; no offers were rescinded
By Leslie Brody, Updated April 9

"A mistake in the city’s high-anxiety admissions process has led the New York City Department of Education to inform 144 students that they had erroneously been denied spots in a sought-after high school and that they have been admitted after all.
", a selective school, made an isolated error in ranking applicants and had to rerank them, a department spokesman said by email. He said no offers were being rescinded.
"The problem comes at a time of wrenching debate over the city’s admissions system for desirable schools and fair access to opportunity. Supporters say selective admissions enable strong students to attend rigorous schools. Chancellor Richard Carranza and many families have questioned the rationale for sorting students by academic ability in hundreds of public programs.

"Many parents also complain that the city’s method for matching students to schools lacks transparency, and many schools don’t publicize exactly how they rate students or the cutoff scores for admission.
"Mr. Goldberg, a member of District 2’s Community Education Council, an elected parent body, said the admissions mishap had ripple effects: Students mistakenly denied offers to Lab took spots at other high schools, edging out other students, who in turn ended up at choices lower on their preference lists. “You can’t really just have a surgical correction because everything is connected,” he said.

The department spokesman disputed that assertion, saying any one school had only a small number of students newly getting offers to Lab, and initial offers assumed there would be some attrition.

The department uses a computer algorithm to match students’ choices with schools’ rankings of applicants. Selective schools rank students by a mix of factors, such as course grades, state test scores and attendance records.

The problem at Lab came to light as some parents questioned why their children didn’t get spots, while peers with weaker academic records were admitted. The school’s principal didn’t respond to requests for comment.
"Last year, more than 3,300 students applied for 103 ninth-grade seats at Lab, by city data."
Update: see also this story, which gives some clues to how the NYCDOE is planning to patch up school assignments in light of the error.
 APR. 10, 2019
"Eric Goldberg, a parent and member of District 2’s Community Education Council, said he was notified Monday afternoon that his daughter was one of the students who had been accepted to Lab, her first choice, after she thought she hadn’t received that match and had already accepted an offer to another school.

"An education department employee called Goldberg to inform him of the admissions error, and that his daughter has until Friday to decide whether she’s going to stick with her original choice or opt for Lab. Goldberg said he has heard from at least 25 other families who received the same phone call that he did.

"He said he’s aware of students who were also newly accepted to Lab but had already accepted offers to Frank McCourt, School of the Future, and Baruch College Campus high schools next year.
“I think the larger implications are first around the transparency of the high school admissions process,” Goldberg said. “There’s limited information available about how schools rank and screen students, and without that transparency, it’s impossible for oversight to identify any issues, you know, with the process.”

It's been at least a decade since I was up to date on operational developments in the NYC choice process, so I'm observing this from a distance. But, back in the day, the NYCDOE was surprisingly well staffed, so in trying to understand what's happening here, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

If I had been asked for advice (and I was not--but the natural people to ask for advice at this point would be  Parag Pathak and Atila Abdulkadiroglu, who were involved in the beginning, and are today the world's greatest authorities on school choice mechanisms), I might have recommended that they rerun the algorithm with the correct inputs, and see which students had been adversely affected by the error.  That number might not be too large, because in a big city like NYC, with hundreds of high school programs to apply to, but with applicants listing no more than a dozen, the "rejection chains" have a tendency to be short.   If that turned out to be the case, then calling the adversely affected families and giving them a chance to go where they should have might well be feasible, given the somewhat arbitrary nature of schools' capacity constraints.  The story above suggests that they may have done something like that.

But algorithms need inputs, and I hope that in years to come some procedures will be introduced to check the inputs before the outputs are announced.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Interview with Preston McAfee on market design in tech firms

Econ focus, from the Richmond Fed, has an interview with Preston McAfee:

Fourth Quarter 2018, INTERVIEW
R. Preston McAfee
Article by: David A. Price

Here are two questions and answers, the first about market design, and the second about when it might be wise to avoid getting involved in it...

EF: In both your academic work and in your published work as a corporate economist, you've done a lot of research on market design, including auction design. And of course, you collaborated on the design of the FCC wireless spectrum auctions. What are some of the main things you've learned about designing markets?
McAfee: First, let's talk about just what market design is. It's a set of techniques for improving the functioning of markets. Specifically, it uses game theory, economic theory, experimental research, behavioral economics, and psychology, all of those disciplines, to make markets work better.
In politics, you have people who don't want to use markets, and then you have people who say just let the market do it — as if that didn't have any choices attached to it. But in fact, often how you make a market work determines whether it works well or poorly. Setting the rules of the game to make markets more efficient is what market design is all about. Thus, whether to hold an auction, whether to sell or lease, who bears responsibility for problems, and what information is communicated to whom are all questions answered by market design. At least four Nobel Prizes have gone for developments in this area.
One thing we learned is to design for mistakes by participants. People will make mistakes, and to encourage participation and efficient outcomes, it is desirable that those mistakes not be catastrophic.
Moreover, there is a trade-off between the potential efficiency of a market and the generation of mistakes. Give people the ability to express complex demands, for example, and the potential efficiency rises, because people can express exactly what they want. But the number of mistakes will rise as well, and the actual performance can decline. I often find myself supporting a simpler design for this reason; I push back on complexity unless that complexity buys a lot of efficiency.
When we designed the PCS [personal communications services] auctions, the spectrum auctions, we were aware that if you made them complicated, people weren't likely to function that well. We had empirical evidence of that.
Take a situation where you have seven properties up for auction. One regime is that I bid independently on each of the properties, and if I am the winning bidder on all seven, I get the seven. Another is to allow the bidder to submit a contingent bid — to say I only want all seven. That's called package bidding or combinatorial bidding. We were aware that in practice those don't work so well, because it winds up taking a long time to figure out who should win what.
But there is some potential loss from not having a package. Because if, let's say, I'm selling shoes, most people don't have much use for a single shoe. So you would not want to sell the shoes individually, even though there are a few people who want only the left shoe or the right shoe. And in fact, I am a person who would like to get different sizes in a left shoe and a right shoe. So there's this trade-off between simplicity, which makes it easier for most, and expressiveness. There is value in that simplicity not only in terms of getting to an answer more quickly, but also in helping bidders avoid mistakes.
Another example is a second-price auction, where you don't pay what you bid; if you're the highest bidder, you pay the second-highest bid, as opposed to paying your own bid. It has a certain resilience to it. There was a guy who actually submitted a bid that was 1,000 times higher than he intended. Just added three zeroes by accident. But in that auction, if you're paying not your bid but the next highest bid, it takes two to make the mistake in order for that to actually cause him to go broke. He wouldn't have gone broke under the second-price auction, whereas he would under the first-price auction. In that specific instance, we had put in a withdrawal rule that allowed him, at some penalty but not a ruinous penalty, to withdraw.

EF: Much of the economic research that has been publicly discussed by technology companies has focused on outward-facing decisions such as pricing and, as we discussed, market design. Are tech companies also using research to structure the incentives of their employees, and is there more they can be doing?
McAfee: I've hired a lot of people over the years, more than 50 anyway, probably more than 60. And among those have been several people, some quite distinguished economists, who decided that the first thing they wanted to do was get involved in compensation.
Your leverage regarding compensation is greatest in the sales force. If you've got a salaried engineer, let's say, there's not as much you can do. But in sales, the financial incentives are large and strong. I try to prevent economists on my teams from ever messing with sales force compensation, because there's no quicker way to be fired. The sales force is very persuasive. That's their job; they're supposed to be persuasive.
There was a case where we had an executive vice president come to us and say, "We really want to run some experiments and learn about the sales force." As I said, I did my best to keep my team out of such matters, but when management comes to me and asks for help, I feel I have to oblige. Not only that, I had people chomping at the bit wanting to get involved. We designed some incentives and then what happened next was fully predictable, which is that the EVP got fired. Fortunately, my team was safe because it hadn't come from them.
My teams have worked with HR on other issues. There's always some ongoing work with HR. It can be on promotion, recruiting, collaborating — anything but compensation.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Marketplace Innovation Workshop at Stanford, June 4-5

Here's the call for papers:

The Fifth Marketplace Innovation Workshop will take place at Stanford University on June 4 (afternoon) and June 5 (all day), 2019. The event is co-located with the INFORMS Revenue Management & Pricing Conference, which will take place on June 6 and 7.

Registration is now open, and will remain open until May 1. To register, please visit the event website at http://marketplaceinnovation.net. On our website, you will also find the list of plenary speakers and information about the Academia-Industry Forums we are piloting this year.

We hope to see you there,
Itai Ashlagi, Ramesh Johari, Ilan Lobel, Costis Maglaras and Gabriel Weintraub

Ilan Lobel
Associate Professor
Stern School of Business
New York University

Fifth Marketplace Innovation Workshop (MIW)

Stanford University, Stanford, California

Co-located with the INFORMS Revenue Management and Pricing Conference

June 4-5, 2019

Abstract submission deadlineMarch 1, 2019
Workshop registration deadlineMay 1, 2019


Itai Ashlagi, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Ramesh Johari, Management Science and Engineering, Stanford University
Ilan Lobel, Stern School of Business, New York University
Costis Maglaras, Columbia Business School, Columbia University
Gabriel Weintraub, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University 


Plenary speakers

The workshop will have several invited distinguished plenary speakers from academia and industry, including:
  • Dirk Bergemann (Yale University)
  • Yash Kanoria (Columbia Business School)
  • Kevin Leyton-Brown (University of British Columbia)
  • Daniela Saban (Stanford Graduate School of Business)
  • Eva Tardos (Cornell University)
  • Adam Wierman (Caltech)
  • Catherine Williams (Xandr)

Auctions and Market Design Plenary Session

We are pleased to announce that the INFORMS Auctions and Market Design Section has organized a plenary session for the workshop with three distinguished speakers spanning a range of interests across auctions, market design, and the themes of the workshop:
  • Shmuel Oren (University of California, Berkeley)
  • David Pennock (Microsoft Research)
  • Rakesh Vohra (University of Pennsylvania)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Nova Scotia moves towards presumed consent for organ donation

The CBC is following the story:
Nova Scotia's opt-out organ donation move sparks mixed reaction
Bioethicist wonders whether rule would fit Canada's multicultural society

"Nova Scotia's decision to make all adults in the province potential organ donors unless they opt out has sparked a backlash from some Canadians.

"The goal is to increase organ donations from deceased donors to save lives of more recipients. Nova Scotia is striving to raise donation rates above 20 per cent, levels found in European countries such as Spain, officials said. About 90 per cent of Canadians say they support organ and tissue donation but less than 20 per cent have made plans to donate.

"Under presumed consent, the default decision is to donate organs on death. But families would continue to be approached to confirm the donor's wishes, said Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director for Nova Scotia's critical care organ donation program.
"The question is whether it's a good fit for Canadian society, said Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto.

"My first concern would be, this is a multicultural society and there are cultures and religions that really have a lot of concern about either organ donation or the steps before organ donation or the definition of death," Bowman said.

"For instance, Bowman said, the Catholic Church is very supportive of organ donation but sees presumed consent as problematic because it reduces the autonomous decision to give."

Earlier from CBC:
Nova Scotia to become 1st in North America with presumed consent for organ donation.  Province will take 12 to 18 months after bill passes to prepare for changes

A related post

Saturday, April 6, 2019