CS-ECON Seminar Series

Procrastination with Variable Present Bias

Speaker:Emmanouil (Manolis) Pountourakis
Date: Wednesday, June 1, 2016
Time: 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Location: Gross Hall 304B, Duke
Lunch will be served.


Individuals working towards a goal often exhibit time inconsistent behavior, making plans and then failing to follow through. One well-known model of such behavioral anomalies is present-bias discounting: individuals over-weight present costs by a bias factor. This model explains many time-inconsistent behaviors, but can make stark predictions in many settings: individuals either follow the most efficient plan for reaching their goal or procrastinate indefinitely. We propose a modification in which the present-bias parameter can vary over time, drawn independently each step from a fixed distribution.Following Kleinberg and Oren (2014), we use a weighted task graph to model task planning, and measure the cost of procrastination as the relative expected cost of the chosen path versus the optimal path. We use a novel connection to optimal pricing theory to describe the structure of the worst-case task graph for any present-bias distribution. We then leverage this structure to derive conditions on the bias distribution under which the worst-case ratio is exponential (in time) or constant. We also examine conditions on the task graph that lead to improved procrastination ratios: graphs with a uniformly bounded distance to the goal, and graphs in which the distance to the goal monotonically decreases on any path. Joint work with Nick Gravin, Nicole Immorlica, and Brendan Lucier.


Emmanouil Pountourakis is a PhD candidate in the Theory and Economics group of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern University. Since 2014 he has been a long term visitor at Microsoft Research, New England. Emmanouil Pountourakis has a broad interest in algorithmic mechanism design. His current research focuses on revenue maximization in static and dynamic environments, and theoretical analysis of behavioral models of time-discounting.

Hosted by:
Vince Conitzer