Science & Tech

David Parkes named professor of computer science

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David C. Parkes, a leader in research at the nexus of computer science and economics, has been appointed Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science in Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences(SEAS).
Parkes, 35, was previously John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences and associate professor of computer science at Harvard, where he has been on the faculty since 2001.

“If you want to know what kind of research and teaching exemplifies the core values of SEAS, you need to look no further than David Parkes,” says Venkatesh Narayanamurti, dean of SEAS and John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “David combines applied mathematics, computer science, game theory, and economics to explore everything from the future of electronic commerce to the ethics of online trading to social computing to problems in optimization. As impressive, he is one of those accessible and approachable professors that Harvard students really get to know — and as a result, are inspired.”

Parkes’s research contributions have come primarily in the areas of mechanism design and multi-agent systems, where he has applied the power of computing to the design of optimal economic systems. In computational mechanism design — the science of designing computational processes that achieve socially desirable outcomes in spite of the self-interest of participants — Parkes developed the iBundle algorithm, the first ascending-price combinatorial auction to yield optimal allocation of resources under a reasonable bidding model. Parkes has since developed scalable methods of preference elicitation, market clearing, and pricing for expressive markets, including combinatorial exchanges. 

Parkes is a pioneer in mechanism design in dynamic environments, creating models where, resources, participants, and information local to participants vary over time, extending the reach of mechanism design in order to embrace the uncertainty that is ubiquitous in the real-world. His more recent work has included the experimental study of selfish behavior in peer-to-peer file sharing, and also optimal environment design, for inducing desired outcomes in distributed systems.

More broadly, Parkes’s work has focused on multi-agent systems, a broad category that includes not only classical economic systems but also social groups engaged in activity such as the production and dissemination of information, as seen among the anonymous and voluntary contributors to the web site Wikipedia. His research has used computer science and modeling to help explain the incentives, cooperation, and behavior of participants in a variety of multi-agent systems.

Parkes’s expertise also touches on topics in artificial intelligence, electronic commerce, and computational game theory.
Parkes received a M.Eng. (first class) in engineering and computing science from Oxford University in 1995 and a Ph.D. in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2001. He joined the Harvard faculty as an assistant professor in 2001, becoming an associate professor in 2005.

Among other honors, Parkes received a Thouron Award in 1995, the National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2003, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 2005, and, earlier this year, Harvard’s Roslyn Abramson Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching.