Adaptive Contract Design for Crowdsourcing Markets: Bandit Algorithms for Repeated Principal-Agent Problems
Crowdsourcing markets have emerged as a popular platform for matching available workers with tasks to complete. The payment for a particular task is typically set by the task’s requester, and may be adjusted based on the quality of the completed work, for example, through the use of «bonus» payments. In this paper, we study the requester’s problem of dynamically adjusting quality-contingent payments for tasks. We consider a multi-round version of the well-known principal-agent model, whereby in each round a worker makes a strategic choice of the effort level which is not directly observable by the requester. In particular, our formulation significantly generalizes the budget-free online task pricing problems studied in prior work. We treat this problem as a multi-armed bandit problem, with each «arm» representing a potential contract. To cope with the large (and in fact, infinite) number of arms, we propose a new algorithm, AgnosticZooming, which discretizes the contract space into a finite number of regions, effectively treating each region as a single arm. This discretization is adaptively refined, so that more promising regions of the contract space are eventually discretized more finely. We analyze this algorithm, showing that it achieves regret sublinear in the time horizon and substantially improves over non-adaptive discretization (which is the only competing approach in the literature). Our results advance the state of art on several different topics: the theory of crowdsourcing markets, principal-agent problems, multi-armed bandits, and dynamic pricing.