The route to chaos in routing games: When is price of anarchy too optimistic?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2020)

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Thiparat Chotibut, Fryderyk Falniowski, Michał Misiurewicz, Georgios Piliouras


Routing games are amongst the most studied classes of games in game theory. Their most well-known property is that learning dynamics typically converge to equilibria implying approximately optimal performance (low Price of Anarchy). We perform a stress test for these classic results by studying the ubiquitous learning dynamics, Multiplicative Weights Update (MWU), in different classes of congestion games, uncovering intricate non-equilibrium phenomena. We study MWU using the actual game costs without applying cost normalization to $[0,1]$. Although this non-standard assumption leads to large regret, it captures realistic agents' behaviors. Namely, as the total demand increases, agents respond more aggressively to unbearably large costs. We start with the illustrative case of non-atomic routing games with two paths of linear cost, and show that every system has a carrying capacity, above which it becomes unstable. If the equilibrium flow is a symmetric $50-50\%$ split, the system exhibits one period-doubling bifurcation. Although the Price of Anarchy is equal to one, in the large population limit the time-average social cost for all but a zero measure set of initial conditions converges to its worst possible value. For asymmetric equilibrium flows, increasing the demand eventually forces the system into Li-Yorke chaos with positive topological entropy and periodic orbits of all possible periods. Remarkably, in all non-equilibrating regimes, the time-average flows on the paths converge {\it exactly} to the equilibrium flows, a property akin to no-regret learning in zero-sum games. We extend our results to games with arbitrarily many strategies, polynomial cost functions, non-atomic as well as atomic routing games, and heterogenous users.