Prophet Inequalities: Separating Random Order from Order Selection

by   Giordano Giambartolomei, et al.

Prophet inequalities are a central object of study in optimal stopping theory. A gambler is sent values online, sampled from an instance of independent distributions, in an adversarial, random or selected order, depending on the model. When observing each value, the gambler either accepts it as a reward or irrevocably rejects it and proceeds to observe the next value. The goal of the gambler, who cannot see the future, is maximising the expected value of the reward while competing against the expectation of a prophet (the offline maximum). In other words, one seeks to maximise the gambler-to-prophet ratio of the expectations. The model, in which the gambler selects the arrival order first, and then observes the values, is known as Order Selection. Recently it has been shown that in this model a ratio of 0.7251 can be attained for any instance. If the gambler chooses the arrival order (uniformly) at random, we obtain the Random Order model. The worst case ratio over all possible instances has been extensively studied for at least 40 years. Still, it is not known if carefully choosing the order, or simply taking it at random, benefits the gambler. We prove that, in the Random Order model, no algorithm can achieve a ratio larger than 0.7235, thus showing for the first time that there is a real benefit in choosing the order.


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