Truthful Univariate Estimators

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Ioannis Caragiannis, Ariel Procaccia, Nisarg Shah ;
Proceedings of The 33rd International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 48:127-135, 2016.

Abstract

We revisit the classic problem of estimating the population mean of an unknown single-dimensional distribution from samples, taking a game-theoretic viewpoint. In our setting, samples are supplied by strategic agents, who wish to pull the estimate as close as possible to their own value. In this setting, the sample mean gives rise to manipulation opportunities, whereas the sample median does not. Our key question is whether the sample median is the best (in terms of mean squared error) truthful estimator of the population mean. We show that when the underlying distribution is symmetric, there are truthful estimators that dominate the median. Our main result is a characterization of worst-case optimal truthful estimators, which provably outperform the median, for possibly asymmetric distributions with bounded support.

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