Joint Colloquium Distinguished Lecture Series

It Pays To Do the Right Thing: Incentive Mechanisms for Societal Networks

Balaji Prabhakar

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
306 Soda Hall (HP Auditorium)
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Balaji Prabhakar
Professor, EECS, Stanford University

Downloadable pdf


Why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets?
Why does glue not stick to the inside of the bottle?
Why is lemonade made with artificial flavor but dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?
How can I get $100 for a recyclable worth $0.05?
How can I avoid traffic jams -- and get paid for it?

While the first three questions are some of life's enduring mysteries, the last two will be answered in this talk. In many of the challenges faced by the modern world, from overcrowded road networks to overstretched healthcare systems, large benefits for society come about from small changes by very many individuals. We survey the problems and the cost they impose on society. We describe a series of pilot projects which aim to develop principles for inducing small changes in behavior in networks such as transportation, wellness and recycling. Pilots have been conducted with Infosys Technologies, Bangalore (commuting) and Accenture-USA (wellness), and two are ongoing: in Singapore (public transit congestion) and at Stanford (congestion and parking).

In this talk, we will describe this work and present results from the pilots. Some salient themes are the use of low-cost sensing (RFID, smartphones) and networking technology for sensing individual behavior, and the use incentives and social norming to influence the behavior.


Balaji Prabhakar is a faculty member in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Stanford University. His research interests are in computer networks; notably, in designing algorithms for the Internet and for Data Centers. Recently, he has been interested in Societal Networks: networks vital for society’s functioning, such as transportation, electricity and recycling systems. He has been involved in developing and deploying incentive mechanisms to move commuters to off-peak times so that congestion, fuel and pollution costs are reduced. Balaji has been a Terman Fellow at Stanford University and a Fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He has received the CAREER award from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Erlang Prize, the Rollo Davidson Prize, and delivered the Lunteren Lectures. He is a co-recipient of several best paper awards. He is on the Advisory Board of the Future Urban Mobility Initiative of the World Economic Forum.

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