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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 27, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 27, 2024
  3. Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 27, 2024
  4. In earlier work, we defined a qualitative notion of harm: either harm is caused, or it is not. For practical applications, we often need to quantify harm; for example, we may want to choose the least harmful of a set of possible interventions. We first present a quantitative definition of harm in a deterministic context involving a single individual, then we consider the issues involved in dealing with uncertainty regarding the context and going from a notion of harm for a single individual to a notion of ``societal harm'', which involves aggregating the harm to individuals. We show that the ``obvious'' way of doing this (just taking the expected harm for an individual and then summing the expected harm over all individuals) can lead to counterintuitive or inappropriate answers, and discuss alternatives, drawing on work from the decision-theory literature. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 19, 2024
  5. \ (Ed.)
    Fluid (or liquid) democracy is a voting paradigm that allows voters to choose between directly voting and transitively delegating their votes to other voters. While fluid democracy has been viewed as a system that can combine the best aspects of direct and representative democracy, it can also result in situations where few voters amass a large amount of influence. To analyze the impact of this shortcoming, we consider what has been called an epistemic setting, where voters decide on a binary issue for which there is a ground truth. Previous work has shown that under certain assumptions on the delegation mechanism, the concentration of power is so severe that fluid democracy is less likely to identify the ground truth than direct voting. We examine different, arguably more realistic, classes of mechanisms, and prove they behave well by ensuring that (with high probability) there is a limit on concentration of power. Our proofs demonstrate that delegations can be treated as stochastic processes and that they can be compared to well-known processes from the literature — such as preferential attachment and multi-types branching process—that are sufficiently bounded for our purposes. Our results suggest that the concerns raised about fluid democracy can be overcome, thereby bolstering the case for this emerging paradigm. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 9, 2024
  6. Everyone puts things off sometimes. How can we combat this tendency to procrastinate? A well-known technique used by instructors is to break up a large project into more manageable chunks. But how should this be done best? Here we study the process of chunking using the graph-theoretic model of present bias introduced by Kleinberg and Oren [2014]. We first analyze how to optimally chunk single edges within a task graph, given a limited number of chunks. We show that for edges on the shortest path, the optimal chunking makes initial chunks easy and later chunks progressively harder. For edges not on the shortest path, optimal chunking is significantly more complex, but we provide an efficient algorithm that chunks the edge optimally. We then use our optimal edge-chunking algorithm to optimally chunk task graphs. We show that with a linear number of chunks on each edge, the biased agent’s cost can be exponentially lowered, to within a constant factor of the true cheapest path. Finally, we extend our model to the case where a task designer must chunk a graph for multiple types of agents simultaneously. The problem grows significantly more complex with even two types of agents, but we provide optimal graph chunking algorithms for two types. Our work highlights the efficacy of chunking as a means to combat present bias. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 9, 2024
  7. For over 25 years, common belief has been widely viewed as necessary for joint behavior. But this is not quite correct. We show by example that what can naturally be thought of as joint behavior can occur without common belief. We then present two variants of common belief that can lead to joint behavior, even without standard common belief ever being achieved, and show that one of them, action-stamped}common belief, is in a sense necessary and sufficient for joint behavior. These observations are significant because, as is well known, common belief is quite difficult to achieve in practice, whereas these variants are more easily achievable. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 28, 2024
  8. In earlier work, we introduced the framework of language-based decisions, the core idea of which was to modify Savage's classical decision-theoretic framework by taking actions to be descriptions in some language, rather than functions from states to outcomes, as they are defined classically. Actions had the form ``if psi then do phi''', where psi and phi$ were formulas in some underlying language, specifying what effects would be brought about under what circumstances. The earlier work allowed only one-step actions. But, in practice, plans are typically composed of a sequence of steps. Here, we extend the earlier framework to \emph{sequential} actions, making it much more broadly applicable. Our technical contribution is a representation theorem in the classical spirit: agents whose preferences over actions satisfy certain constraints can be modeled as if they are expected utility maximizers. As in the earlier work, due to the language-based specification of the actions, the representation theorem requires a construction not only of the probability and utility functions representing the agent's beliefs and preferences, but also the state and outcomes spaces over which these are defined, as well as a ``selection function'' which intuitively captures how agents disambiguate coarse descriptions. The (unbounded) depth of action sequencing adds substantial interest (and complexity!) to the proof. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 28, 2024
  9. Work on optimal protocols for \emph{Eventual Byzantine Agreement} (EBA)---protocols that, in a precise sense, decide as soon as possible in every run and guarantee that all nonfaulty agents decide on the same value---has focused on full-information protocols} (FIPs), where agents repeatedly send messages that completely describe their past observations to every other agent. While it can be shown that, without loss of generality, we can take an optimal protocol to be an FIP, full information exchange is impractical to implement for many applications due to the required message size. We separate protocols into two parts, the information-exchange protocol and the action protocol, so as to be able to examine the effects of more limited information exchange. We then define a notion of optimality with respect to an information-exchange protocol. Roughly speaking, an action protocol P is optimal with respect to an information-exchange protocol E if, with P, agents decide as soon as possible among action protocols that exchange information according to E. We present a knowledge-based EBA program for omission failures all of whose implementations are guaranteed to be correct and are optimal if the information exchange satisfies a certain safety condition. We then construct concrete programs that implement this knowledge-based program in two settings of interest that are shown to satisfy the safety condition. Finally, we show that a small modification of our program results in an FIP that s both optimal and efficiently implementable, settling an open problem posed by Halpern, Moses, and Waarts (SIAM J. Comput., 2001). 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 19, 2024
  10. Many studies have shown that humans are ``predictably irrational'': they do not act in a fully rational way, but their deviations from rational behavior are quite systematic. Our goal is to see the extent to which we can explain and justify these deviations as the outcome of rational but resource-bounded agents doing as well as they can, given their limitations. We focus on the well-studied ranger-poacher game, where rangers are trying to protect a number of sites from poaching. We capture the computational limitations by modeling the poacher and the ranger as probabilistic finite automata (PFAs). We show that, with sufficiently large memory, PFAs learn to play the Nash equilibrium (NE) strategies of the game and achieve the NE utility. However, if we restrict the memory, we get more ``human-like'' behaviors, such as probability matching (i.e., visiting sites in proportion to the probability of a rhino being there), and avoiding sites where there was a bad outcome (e.g., the poacher was caught by the ranger), that we also observed in experiments conducted on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Interestingly, we find that adding human-like behaviors such as probability matching and overweighting significant events (like getting caught) actually improves performance, showing that this seemingly irrational behavior can be quite rational. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 29, 2024