Brown CS News

Paper by Amy Greenwald Receives IBM Award

    Amy Greenwald's paper with Jeff Kephart, entitled `Shopbots and Pricebots' and published in `Agent-Mediated Electronic Commerce II', has been selected as one of the three best papers published by IBM researchers in 2000.

    The IBM announcement summarizes the paper as follows: `Shopbots' are software agents that automatically gather and collate information from multiple online vendors about price and quality of consumer goods and services. This paper posits the rise of "pricebots", automated agents that employ price-setting algorithms in an attempt to maximize profits. It studies a simple economic model which helps characterize the likely impacts of a proliferation of shopbots and pricebots, in which some buyers select sellers at random and some use shopbots, and it studies several pricing algorithms that could be used by pricebots. It turns out that only a rather small fraction of the buying population needs to use shopbots before it becomes profitable for the sellers to use pricebots in return, suggesting that pricebots will be an important part of the future economic landscape. The results of simulation studies are presented that demonstrate the ubiquity of price wars, but suggest that incorporating learning into the pricebot strategy greatly diminishes these price wars and seems to pave the way for practical pricebot algorithms. It is important for pricebots to know the prices of their competitors in order to set their own prices. The obvious way for them to do this is to use a shopbot. So, if shopbots and pricebots proliferate, sellers will be constantly bombarded with requests for price, and may cope by charging for this information to avoid overload. Both the idea of pricebots and this resulting overload are novel predictions that have been picked up subsequently by the research community.

    This is likely to become a seminal paper. It coined the term and, more importantly, the idea of "pricebots". A number of research papers, citing this work, have investigated other aspects of pricebots, and the idea seems to be gaining in significance and is likely to be the basis for a great deal of work in automated price-setting in the future. Articles in the popular media, including the New York Times, Time Magazine and Wired, have mentioned pricebots and this work.