Title: An O(log log m) prophet inequality for subadditive combinatorial auctions
Authors: Paul Duetting - Google Research (Switzerland) [presenting]
Abstract: Prophet inequalities compare the expected performance of an online algorithm for a stochastic optimization problem to the expected optimal solution in hindsight. They are a major alternative to classic worst-case competitive analysis, of particular importance in the design and analysis of simple (posted-price) incentive-compatible mechanisms with provable approximation guarantees. A central open problem in this area concerns subadditive combinatorial auctions. A number $n$ of agents with subadditive valuation functions compete for the assignment of m items. The goal is to find an allocation of the items that maximize the total value of the assignment. The question is whether there exists a prophet inequality for this problem that significantly beats the best-known approximation factor of O(log m). We make major progress on this question by providing an $O(\log\log m)$ prophet inequality. The proof goes through a novel primal-dual approach. It is also constructive, resulting in an online policy that takes the form of static and anonymous item prices that can be computed in polynomial time given appropriate query access to the valuations. As an application of our approach, we construct a simple and incentive-compatible mechanism based on posted prices that achieves an $O(\log\log m)$ approximation to the optimal revenue for subadditive valuations under an item-independence assumption.