Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)
Yuan Deng, Sébastien Lahaie, Vahab Mirrokni
Dynamic mechanisms offer powerful techniques to improve on both revenue and efficiency by linking sequential auctions using state information, but these techniques rely on exact distributional information of the buyers’ valuations (present and future), which limits their use in learning settings. In this paper, we consider the problem of contextual auctions where the seller gradually learns a model of the buyer's valuation as a function of the context (e.g., item features) and seeks a pricing policy that optimizes revenue. Building on the concept of a bank account mechanism---a special class of dynamic mechanisms that is known to be revenue-optimal---we develop a non-clairvoyant dynamic mechanism that is robust to both estimation errors in the buyer's value distribution and strategic behavior on the part of the buyer. We then tailor its structure to achieve a policy with provably low regret against a constant approximation of the optimal dynamic mechanism in contextual auctions. Our result substantially improves on previous results that only provide revenue guarantees against static benchmarks.