Section: New Results
Decision-making Under Uncertainty
Minimax PAC bounds on the sample complexity of reinforcement learning with a generative model 
We consider the problem of learning the optimal action-value function in discounted-reward Markov decision processes (MDPs). We prove new PAC bounds on the sample-complexity of two well-known model-based reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms in the presence of a generative model of the MDP: value iteration and policy iteration. The first result indicates that for an MDP with N state-action pairs and the discount factor in[0, 1) only O(N log(N/)/ [(1 - )3 2]) state-transition samples are required to find an -optimal estimation of the action-value function with the probability (w.p.) 1-. Further, we prove that, for small values of , an order of O(N log(N/)/ [(1 - )3 2]) samples is required to find an -optimal policy w.p. 1-. We also prove a matching lower bound of (N log(N/)/ [(1 - )3 2]) on the sample complexity of estimating the optimal action-value function. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first minimax result on the sample complexity of RL: The upper bound matches the lower bound interms of N , , and 1/(1 -) up to a constant factor. Also, both our lower bound and upper bound improve on the state-of-the-art in terms of their dependence on 1/(1-).
Regret Bounds for Reinforcement Learning with Policy Advice 
In some reinforcement learning problems an agent may be provided with a set of input policies, perhaps learned from prior experience or provided by advisors. We present a reinforcement learning with policy advice (RLPA) algorithm which leverages this input set and learns to use the best policy in the set for the reinforcement learning task at hand. We prove that RLPA has a sub-linear regret of relative to the best input policy, and that both this regret and its computational complexity are independent of the size of the state and action space. Our empirical simulations support our theoretical analysis. This suggests RLPA may offer significant advantages in large domains where some prior good policies are provided.
Optimistic planning for belief-augmented Markov decision processes 
This paper presents the Bayesian Optimistic Planning (BOP) algorithm, a novel model-based Bayesian reinforcement learning approach. BOP extends the planning approach of the Optimistic Planning for Markov Decision Processes (OP-MDP) algorithm ,  to contexts where the transition model of the MDP is initially unknown and progressively learned through interactions within the environment. The knowledge about the unknown MDP is represented with a probability distribution over all possible transition models using Dirichlet distributions, and the BOP algorithm plans in the belief-augmented state space constructed by concatenating the original state vector with the current posterior distribution over transition models. We show that BOP becomes Bayesian optimal when the budget parameter increases to infinity. Preliminary empirical validations show promising performance.
Aggregating optimistic planning trees for solving markov decision processes 
This paper addresses the problem of online planning in Markov decision processes using a generative model and under a budget constraint. We propose a new algorithm, ASOP, which is based on the construction of a forest of single successor state planning trees, where each tree corresponds to a random realization of the stochastic environment. The trees are explored using a "safe" optimistic planning strategy which combines the optimistic principle (in order to explore the most promising part of the search space first) and a safety principle (which guarantees a certain amount of uniform exploration). In the decision-making step of the algorithm, the individual trees are aggregated and an immediate action is recommended. We provide a finite-sample analysis and discuss the trade-off between the principles of optimism and safety. We report numerical results on a benchmark problem showing that ASOP performs as well as state-of-the-art optimistic planning algorithms.
Optimal Regret Bounds for Selecting the State Representation in Reinforcement Learning 
We consider an agent interacting with an environment in a single stream of actions, observations, and rewards, with no reset. This process is not assumed to be a Markov Decision Process (MDP). Rather, the agent has several representations (mapping histories of past interactions to a discrete state space) of the environment with unknown dynamics, only some of which result in an MDP. The goal is to minimize the average regret criterion against an agent who knows an MDP representation giving the highest optimal reward, and acts optimally in it. Recent regret bounds for this setting are of order with an additive term constant yet exponential in some characteristics of the optimal MDP. We propose an algorithm whose regret after time steps is , with all constants reasonably small. This is optimal in since is the optimal regret in the setting of learning in a (single discrete) MDP.
Competing with an Infinite Set of Models in Reinforcement Learning 
We consider a reinforcement learning setting where the learner also has to deal with the problem of finding a suitable state-representation function from a given set of models. This has to be done while interacting with the environment in an online fashion (no resets), and the goal is to have small regret with respect to any Markov model in the set. For this setting, recently the BLBãlgorithm has been proposed, which achieves regret of order , provided that the given set of models is finite. Our first contribution is to extend this result to a countably infinite set of models. Moreover, the BLBr̃egret bound suffers from an additive term that can be exponential in the diameter of the MDP involved, since the diameter has to be guessed. The algorithm we propose avoids guessing the diameter, thus improving the regret bound.
A review of optimistic planning in Markov decision processes 
We review a class of online planning algorithms for deterministic and stochastic optimal control problems, modeled as Markov decision processes. At each discrete time step, these algorithms maximize the predicted value of planning policies from the current state, and apply the first action of the best policy found. An overall receding-horizon algorithm results, which can also be seen as a type of model-predictive control. The space of planning policies is explored optimistically, focusing on areas with largest upper bounds on the value - or upper confidence bounds, in the stochastic case. The resulting optimistic planning framework integrates several types of optimism previously used in planning, optimization, and reinforcement learning, in order to obtain several intuitive algorithms with good performance guarantees. We describe in detail three recent such algorithms, outline the theoretical guarantees on their performance, and illustrate their behavior in a numerical example.
Multi-arm Bandit Theory
Automatic motor task selection via a bandit algorithm for a brain-controlled button 
Objective. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) based on sensorimotor rhythms use a variety of motor tasks, such as imagining moving the right or left hand, the feet or the tongue. Finding the tasks that yield best performance, specifically to each user, is a time-consuming preliminary phase to a BCI experiment. This study presents a new adaptive procedure to automatically select (online) the most promising motor task for an asynchronous brain-controlled button. Approach. We develop for this purpose an adaptive algorithm UCB-classif based on the stochastic bandit theory and design an EEG experiment to test our method. We compare (offline) the adaptive algorithm to a naïve selection strategy which uses uniformly distributed samples from each task. We also run the adaptive algorithm online to fully validate the approach. Main results. By not wasting time on inefficient tasks, and focusing on the most promising ones, this algorithm results in a faster task selection and a more efficient use of the BCI training session. More precisely, the offline analysis reveals that the use of this algorithm can reduce the time needed to select the most appropriate task by almost half without loss in precision, or alternatively, allow us to investigate twice the number of tasks within a similar time span. Online tests confirm that the method leads to an optimal task selection. Significance. This study is the first one to optimize the task selection phase by an adaptive procedure. By increasing the number of tasks that can be tested in a given time span, the proposed method could contribute to reducing 'BCI illiteracy'.
Kullback-Leibler Upper Confidence Bounds for Optimal Sequential Allocation 
We consider optimal sequential allocation in the context of the so-called stochastic multi-armed bandit model. We describe a generic index policy, in the sense of Gittins (1979), based on upper confidence bounds of the arm payoffs computed using the Kullback-Leibler divergence. We consider two classes of distributions for which instances of this general idea are analyzed: The kl-UCB algorithm is designed for one-parameter exponential families and the empirical KL-UCB algorithm for bounded and finitely supported distributions. Our main contribution is a unified finite-time analysis of the regret of these algorithms that asymptotically matches the lower bounds of Lai and Robbins (1985) and Burnetas and Katehakis (1996), respectively. We also investigate the behavior of these algorithms when used with general bounded rewards, showing in particular that they provide significant improvements over the state-of-the-art.
Sequential Transfer in Multi-armed Bandit with Finite Set of Models 
Learning from prior tasks and transferring that experience to improve future performance is critical for building lifelong learning agents. Although results in supervised and reinforcement learning show that transfer may significantly improve the learning performance, most of the literature on transfer is focused on batch learning tasks. In this paper we study the problem of sequential transfer in online learning, notably in the multi–armed bandit framework, where the objective is to minimize the total regret over a sequence of tasks by transferring knowledge from prior tasks. Under the assumption that the tasks are drawn from a stationary distribution over a finite set of models, we define a novel bandit algorithm based on a method-of-moments approach for the estimation of the possible tasks and derive regret bounds for it. We introduce a novel bandit algorithm based on a method-of-moments approach for estimating the possible tasks and derive regret bounds for it. Finally, we report preliminary empirical results confirming the theoretical findings.
Optimizing P300-speller sequences by RIP-ping groups apart 
So far P300-speller design has put very little emphasis on the design of optimized flash patterns, a surprising fact given the importance of the sequence of flashes on the selection outcome. Previous work in this domain has consisted in studying consecutive flashes, to prevent the same letter or its neighbors from flashing consecutively. To this effect, the flashing letters form more random groups than the original row-column sequences for the P300 paradigm, but the groups remain fixed across repetitions. This has several important consequences, among which a lack of discrepancy between the scores of the different letters. The new approach proposed in this paper accumulates evidence for individual elements, and optimizes the sequences by relaxing the constraint that letters should belong to fixed groups across repetitions. The method is inspired by the theory of Restricted Isometry Property matrices in Compressed Sensing, and it can be applied to any display grid size, and for any target flash frequency. This leads to P300 sequences which are shown here to perform significantly better than the state of the art, in simulations and online tests.
Stochastic Simultaneous Optimistic Optimization 
We study the problem of global maximization of a function f given a finite number of evaluations perturbed by noise. We consider a very weak assumption on the function, namely that it is locally smooth (in some precise sense) with respect to some semi-metric, around one of its global maxima. Compared to previous works on bandits in general spaces (Kleinberg et al., 2008; Bubeck et al., 2011a) our algorithm does not require the knowledge of this semi-metric. Our algorithm, StoSOO, follows an optimistic strategy to iteratively construct upper confidence bounds over the hierarchical partitions of the function domain to decide which point to sample next. A finite-time analysis of StoSOO shows that it performs almost as well as the best specifically-tuned algorithms even though the local smoothness of the function is not known.
Toward optimal stratification for stratified monte-carlo integration 
We consider the problem of adaptive stratified sampling for Monte Carlo integration of a noisy function, given a finite budget n of noisy evaluations to the function. We tackle in this paper the problem of adapting to the function at the same time the number of samples into each stratum and the partition itself. More precisely, it is interesting to refine the partition of the domain in area where the noise to the function, or where the variations of the function, are very heterogeneous. On the other hand, having a (too) refined stratification is not optimal. Indeed, the more refined the stratification, the more difficult it is to adjust the allocation of the samples to the stratification, i.e. sample more points where the noise or variations of the function are larger. We provide in this paper an algorithm that selects online, among a large class of partitions, the partition that provides the optimal trade-off, and allocates the samples almost optimally on this partition
Thompson sampling for one-dimensional exponential family bandits 
Thompson Sampling has been demonstrated in many complex bandit models, however the theoretical guarantees available for the parametric multi-armed bandit are still limited to the Bernoulli case. Here we extend them by proving asymptotic optimality of the algorithm using the Jeffreys prior for 1-dimensional exponential family bandits. Our proof builds on previous work, but also makes extensive use of closed forms for Kullback-Leibler divergence and Fisher information (and thus Jeffreys prior) available in an exponential family. This allow us to give a finite time exponential concentration inequality for posterior distributions on exponential families that may be of interest in its own right. Moreover our analysis covers some distributions for which no optimistic algorithm has yet been proposed, including heavy-tailed exponential families.
Finite-Time Analysis of Kernelised Contextual Bandits 
We tackle the problem of online reward maximisation over a large finite set of actions described by their contexts. We focus on the case when the number of actions is too big to sample all of them even once. However we assume that we have access to the similarities between actions' contexts and that the expected reward is an arbitrary linear function of the contexts' images in the related reproducing kernel Hilbert space (RKHS). We propose KernelUCB, a kernelised UCB algorithm, and give a cumulative regret bound through a frequentist analysis. For contextual bandits, the related algorithm GP-UCB turns out to be a special case of our algorithm, and our finite-time analysis improves the regret bound of GP-UCB for the agnostic case, both in the terms of the kernel-dependent quantity and the RKHS norm of the reward function. Moreover, for the linear kernel, our regret bound matches the lower bound for contextual linear bandits.
From Bandits to Monte-Carlo Tree Search: The Optimistic Principle Applied to Optimization and Planning 
This work covers several aspects of the optimism in the face of uncertainty principle applied to large scale optimization problems under finite numerical budget. The initial motivation for the research reported here originated from the empirical success of the so-called Monte-Carlo Tree Search method popularized in computer-go and further extended to many other games as well as optimization and planning problems. Our objective is to contribute to the development of theoretical foundations of the field by characterizing the complexity of the underlying optimization problems and designing efficient algorithms with performance guarantees. The main idea presented here is that it is possible to decompose a complex decision making problem (such as an optimization problem in a large search space) into a sequence of elementary decisions, where each decision of the sequence is solved using a (stochastic) multi-armed bandit (simple mathematical model for decision making in stochastic environments). This so-called hierarchical bandit approach (where the reward observed by a bandit in the hierarchy is itself the return of another bandit at a deeper level) possesses the nice feature of starting the exploration by a quasi-uniform sampling of the space and then focusing progressively on the most promising area, at different scales, according to the evaluations observed so far, and eventually performing a local search around the global optima of the function. The performance of the method is assessed in terms of the optimality of the returned solution as a function of the number of function evaluations. Our main contribution to the field of function optimization is a class of hierarchical optimistic algorithms designed for general search spaces (such as metric spaces, trees, graphs, Euclidean spaces, ...) with different algorithmic instantiations depending on whether the evaluations are noisy or noiseless and whether some measure of the ”smoothness” of the function is known or unknown. The performance of the algorithms depend on the local behavior of the function around its global optima expressed in terms of the quantity of near-optimal states measured with some metric. If this local smoothness of the function is known then one can design very efficient optimization algorithms (with convergence rate independent of the space dimension), and when it is not known, we can build adaptive techniques that can, in some cases, perform almost as well as when it is known.