Section: New Results

Decision-making Under Uncertainty

Reinforcement Learning

Analysis of Classification-based Policy Iteration Algorithms, [20]

We introduce a variant of the classification-based approach to policy iteration which uses a cost-sensitive loss function weighting each classification mistake by its actual regret, that is, the difference between the action-value of the greedy action and of the action chosen by the classifier. For this algorithm, we provide a full finite-sample analysis. Our results state a performance bound in terms of the number of policy improvement steps, the number of rollouts used in each iteration, the capacity of the considered policy space (classifier), and a capacity measure which indicates how well the policy space can approximate policies that are greedy with respect to any of its members. The analysis reveals a tradeoff between the estimation and approximation errors in this classification-based policy iteration setting. Furthermore it confirms the intuition that classification-based policy iteration algorithms could be favorably compared to value-based approaches when the policies can be approximated more easily than their corresponding value functions. We also study the consistency of the algorithm when there exists a sequence of policy spaces with increasing capacity.

Reinforcement Learning of POMDPs using Spectral Methods, [23]

We propose a new reinforcement learning algorithm for partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDP) based on spectral decomposition methods. While spectral methods have been previously employed for consistent learning of (passive) latent variable models such as hidden Markov models, POMDPs are more challenging since the learner interacts with the environment and possibly changes the future observations in the process. We devise a learning algorithm running through episodes, in each episode we employ spectral techniques to learn the POMDP parameters from a trajectory generated by a fixed policy. At the end of the episode, an optimization oracle returns the optimal memoryless planning policy which maximizes the expected reward based on the estimated POMDP model. We prove an order-optimal regret bound w.r.t. the optimal memoryless policy and efficient scaling with respect to the dimensionality of observation and action spaces.

Bayesian Policy Gradient and Actor-Critic Algorithms, [15]

Policy gradient methods are reinforcement learning algorithms that adapt a parameterized policy by following a performance gradient estimate. Many conventional policy gradient methods use Monte-Carlo techniques to estimate this gradient. The policy is improved by adjusting the parameters in the direction of the gradient estimate. Since Monte-Carlo methods tend to have high variance, a large number of samples is required to attain accurate estimates, resulting in slow convergence. In this paper, we first propose a Bayesian framework for policy gradient, based on modeling the policy gradient as a Gaussian process. This reduces the number of samples needed to obtain accurate gradient estimates. Moreover, estimates of the natural gradient as well as a measure of the uncertainty in the gradient estimates, namely, the gradient covariance, are provided at little extra cost. Since the proposed Bayesian framework considers system trajectories as its basic observable unit, it does not require the dynamics within trajectories to be of any particular form, and thus, can be easily extended to partially observable problems. On the downside, it cannot take advantage of the Markov property when the system is Markovian. To address this issue, we proceed to supplement our Bayesian policy gradient framework with a new actor-critic learning model in which a Bayesian class of non-parametric critics, based on Gaussian process temporal difference learning, is used. Such critics model the action-value function as a Gaussian process, allowing Bayes’ rule to be used in computing the posterior distribution over action-value functions, conditioned on the observed data. Appropriate choices of the policy parameterization and of the prior covariance (kernel) between action-values allow us to obtain closed-form expressions for the posterior distribution of the gradient of the expected return with respect to the policy parameters. We perform detailed experimental comparisons of the proposed Bayesian policy gradient and actor-critic algorithms with classic Monte-Carlo based policy gradient methods, as well as with each other, on a number of reinforcement learning problems.

Multi-arm Bandit Theory

Improved Learning Complexity in Combinatorial Pure Exploration Bandits, [32]

We study the problem of combinatorial pure exploration in the stochastic multi-armed bandit problem. We first construct a new measure of complexity that provably characterizes the learning performance of the algorithms we propose for the fixed confidence and the fixed budget setting. We show that this complexity is never higher than the one in existing work and illustrate a number of configurations in which it can be significantly smaller. While in general this improvement comes at the cost of increased computational complexity, we provide a series of examples , including a planning problem, where this extra cost is not significant.

Online learning with noisy side observations, [43]

We propose a new partial-observability model for online learning problems where the learner, besides its own loss, also observes some noisy feedback about the other actions, depending on the underlying structure of the problem. We represent this structure by a weighted directed graph, where the edge weights are related to the quality of the feedback shared by the connected nodes. Our main contribution is an efficient algorithm that guarantees a regret of O(α*T) after T rounds, where α * is a novel graph property that we call the effective independence number. Our algorithm is completely parameter-free and does not require knowledge (or even estimation) of α *. For the special case of binary edge weights, our setting reduces to the partial-observability models of Mannor & Shamir (2011) and Alon et al. (2013) and our algorithm recovers the near-optimal regret bounds.

Online learning with Erdös-Rényi side-observation graphs, [42]

We consider adversarial multi-armed bandit problems where the learner is allowed to observe losses of a number of arms beside the arm that it actually chose. We study the case where all non-chosen arms reveal their loss with an unknown probability rt, independently of each other and the action of the learner. Moreover, we allow rt to change in every round t, which rules out the possibility of estimating rt by a well-concentrated sample average. We propose an algorithm which operates under the assumption that rt is large enough to warrant at least one side observation with high probability. We show that after T rounds in a bandit problem with N arms, the expected regret of our algorithm is of order O(sqrt(sum(t=1)T (1/rt) log N )), given that rt less than log T / (2N-2) for all t. All our bounds are within logarithmic factors of the best achievable performance of any algorithm that is even allowed to know exact values of rt.

Revealing graph bandits for maximizing local influence, [27]

We study a graph bandit setting where the objective of the learner is to detect the most influential node of a graph by requesting as little information from the graph as possible. One of the relevant applications for this setting is marketing in social networks, where the marketer aims at finding and taking advantage of the most influential customers. The existing approaches for bandit problems on graphs require either partial or complete knowledge of the graph. In this paper, we do not assume any knowledge of the graph, but we consider a setting where it can be gradually discovered in a sequential and active way. At each round, the learner chooses a node of the graph and the only information it receives is a stochastic set of the nodes that the chosen node is currently influencing. To address this setting, we propose BARE, a bandit strategy for which we prove a regret guarantee that scales with the detectable dimension, a problem dependent quantity that is often much smaller than the number of nodes.

Algorithms for Differentially Private Multi-Armed Bandits, [50]

We present differentially private algorithms for the stochastic Multi-Armed Bandit (MAB) problem. This is a problem for applications such as adaptive clinical trials, experiment design, and user-targeted advertising where private information is connected to individual rewards. Our major contribution is to show that there exist (ϵ,δ) differentially private variants of Upper Confidence Bound algorithms which have optimal regret, O(ϵ-1+logT). This is a significant improvement over previous results, which only achieve poly-log regret O(ϵ-2log2T), because of our use of a novel interval-based mechanism. We also substantially improve the bounds of previous family of algorithms which use a continual release mechanism. Experiments clearly validate our theoretical bounds.

On the Complexity of Best Arm Identification in Multi-Armed Bandit Models, [17]

The stochastic multi-armed bandit model is a simple abstraction that has proven useful in many different contexts in statistics and machine learning. Whereas the achievable limit in terms of regret minimization is now well known, our aim is to contribute to a better understanding of the performance in terms of identifying the m best arms. We introduce generic notions of complexity for the two dominant frameworks considered in the literature: fixed-budget and fixed-confidence settings. In the fixed-confidence setting, we provide the first known distribution-dependent lower bound on the complexity that involves information-theoretic quantities and holds when m is larger than 1 under general assumptions. In the specific case of two armed-bandits, we derive refined lower bounds in both the fixed-confidence and fixed-budget settings, along with matching algorithms for Gaussian and Bernoulli bandit models. These results show in particular that the complexity of the fixed-budget setting may be smaller than the complexity of the fixed-confidence setting, contradicting the familiar behavior observed when testing fully specified alternatives. In addition, we also provide improved sequential stopping rules that have guaranteed error probabilities and shorter average running times. The proofs rely on two technical results that are of independent interest : a deviation lemma for self-normalized sums (Lemma 19) and a novel change of measure inequality for bandit models (Lemma 1).

Optimal Best Arm Identification with Fixed Confidence, [33]

We give a complete characterization of the complexity of best-arm identification in one-parameter bandit problems. We prove a new, tight lower bound on the sample complexity. We propose the `Track-and-Stop' strategy, which we prove to be asymptotically optimal. It consists in a new sampling rule (which tracks the optimal proportions of arm draws highlighted by the lower bound) and in a stopping rule named after Chernoff, for which we give a new analysis.

On Explore-Then-Commit Strategies, [35]

We study the problem of minimising regret in two-armed bandit problems with Gaussian rewards. Our objective is to use this simple setting to illustrate that strategies based on an exploration phase (up to a stopping time) followed by exploitation are necessarily suboptimal. The results hold regardless of whether or not the difference in means between the two arms is known. Besides the main message, we also refine existing deviation inequalities, which allow us to design fully sequential strategies with finite-time regret guarantees that are (a) asymptotically optimal as the horizon grows and (b) order-optimal in the minimax sense. Furthermore we provide empirical evidence that the theory also holds in practice and discuss extensions to non-gaussian and multiple-armed case.

Recommendation systems

Scalable explore-exploit Collaborative Filtering, [39]

Recommender Systems (RS) aim at suggesting to users one or several items in which they might have interest. These systems have to update themselves as users provide new ratings, but also as new users/items enter the system. While this adaptation makes recommendation an intrinsically sequential task, most researches about RS based on Collaborative Filtering are omitting this fact, as well as the ensuing exploration/exploitation dilemma: should the system recommend items which bring more information about the users (explore), or should it try to get an immediate feedback as high as possible (exploit)? Recently, a few approaches were proposed to solve that dilemma, but they do not meet requirements to scale up to real life applications which is a crucial point as the number of items available on RS and the number of users in these systems explode. In this paper, we present an explore-exploit Collaborative Filtering RS which is both efficient and scales well. Extensive experiments on some of the largest available real-world datasets show that the proposed approach performs accurate personalized recommendations in less than a millisecond per recommendation, which makes it a good candidate for true applications.

Large-scale Bandit Recommender System, [38]

The main target of Recommender Systems (RS) is to propose to users one or several items in which they might be interested. However, as users provide more feedback, the recommendation process has to take these new data into consideration. The necessity of this update phase makes recommendation an intrinsically sequential task. A few approaches were recently proposed to address this issue, but they do not meet the need to scale up to real life applications. In this paper , we present a Collaborative Filtering RS method based on Matrix Factorization and Multi-Armed Bandits. This approach aims at good recommendations with a narrow computation time. Several experiments on large datasets show that the proposed approach performs personalized recommendations in less than a millisecond per recommendation.

Sequential Collaborative Ranking Using (No-)Click Implicit Feedback, [40]

We study Recommender Systems in the context where they suggest a list of items to users. Several crucial issues are raised in such a setting: first, identify the relevant items to recommend; second, account for the feedback given by the user after he clicked and rated an item; third, since new feedback arrive into the system at any moment, incorporate such information to improve future recommendations. In this paper, we take these three aspects into consideration and present an approach handling click/no-click feedback information. Experiments on real-world datasets show that our approach outperforms state of the art algorithms.

Hybrid Recommender System based on Autoencoders, [49]

A standard model for Recommender Systems is the Matrix Completion setting: given partially known matrix of ratings given by users (rows) to items (columns), infer the unknown ratings. In the last decades, few attempts where done to handle that objective with Neural Networks, but recently an architecture based on Autoencoders proved to be a promising approach. In current paper, we enhanced that architecture (i) by using a loss function adapted to input data with missing values, and (ii) by incorporating side information. The experiments demonstrate that while side information only slightly improve the test error averaged on all users/items, it has more impact on cold users/items.

Compromis exploration-exploitation pour système de recommandation à grande échelle, [53]

Les systèmes de recommandation recommandent à des utilisateurs un ou des produits qui pourraient les intéresser. La recommandation se fonde sur les retours des utilisateurs par le passé, lors des précédentes recommandations. La recommandation est donc un problème séquentiel et le système de recommandation recommande (i) pour obtenir une bonne récompense, mais aussi (ii) pour mieux cerné l'utilisateur/les produits et ainsi obtenir de meilleures récompenses par la suite. Quelques approches récentes ciblent ce double objectif mais elles sont trop gourmandes en temps de calcul pour s'appliquer à certaines applications de la vie réelle. Dans cet article, nous présentons un système de recommandation fondé sur la factorisation de matrice et les bandits manchots. Plusieurs expériences sur de grandes base de données montrent que l'approche proposée fournit de bonnes recommendations en moins d'une milli-seconde par recommandation.

Filtrage Collaboratif Hybride avec des Auto-encodeurs, [54]

Le filtrage collaboratif (CF) exploite les retours des utilisateurs pour leur fournir des recommandations personnalisées. Lorsque ces algorithmes ont accès à des informations complémentaires, ils ont de meilleurs résultats et gèrent plus efficacement le démarrage à froid. Bien que les réseaux de neurones (NN) remportent de nombreux succès en traitement d'images, ils ont reçu beaucoup moins d'attention dans la communauté du CF. C'est d'autant plus surprenant que les NN apprennent comme les algorithme de CF une représentation latente des données. Dans cet article, nous introduisons une architecture de NN adaptée au CF (nommée CFN) qui prend en compte la parcimonie des données et les informations complémentaires. Nous montrons empiriquement sur les bases de données MovieLens et Douban que CFN bât l'état de l'art et profite des informations complémentaires. Nous fournissons une implémentation de l'algorithme sous forme d'un plugin pour Torch.

Nonparametric statistics of time series

Things Bayes can't do, [48]

The problem of forecasting conditional probabilities of the next event given the past is consideredin a general probabilistic setting. Given an arbitrary (large, uncountable) set C of predictors, we would like to construct a single predictor that performs asymptotically as well as the best predictor in C, on any data. Here we show that there are sets C for which such predictors exist, but none of them is a Bayesian predictor with a prior concentrated on C.In other words, there is a predictor with sublinear regret, but every Bayesian predictor must have a linear regret. This negative finding is in sharp contrast with previous resultsthat establish the opposite for the case when one of the predictors in C achieves asymptotically vanishing error.In such a case, if there is a predictor that achieves asymptotically vanishing error for any measure in C, then there is a Bayesian predictor that also has this property, and whose prior is concentrated on (a countable subset of) C.

Imitation and Inverse Reinforcement Learning

Score-based Inverse Reinforcement Learning, [29]

This paper reports theoretical and empirical results obtained for the score-based Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL) algorithm. It relies on a non-standard setting for IRL consisting of learning a reward from a set of globally scored trajec-tories. This allows using any type of policy (optimal or not) to generate trajectories without prior knowledge during data collection. This way, any existing database (like logs of systems in use) can be scored a posteriori by an expert and used to learn a reward function. Thanks to this reward function, it is shown that a near-optimal policy can be computed. Being related to least-square regression, the algorithm (called SBIRL) comes with theoretical guarantees that are proven in this paper. SBIRL is compared to standard IRL algorithms on synthetic data showing that annotations do help under conditions on the quality of the trajectories. It is also shown to be suitable for real-world applications such as the optimisation of a spoken dialogue system.

Stochastic Games

Blazing the trails before beating the path: Sample-efficient Monte-Carlo planning, [37]

You are a robot and you live in a Markov decision process (MDP) with a finite or an infinite number of transitions from state-action to next states. You got brains and so you plan before you act. Luckily, your roboparents equipped you with a generative model to do some Monte-Carlo planning. The world is waiting for you and you have no time to waste. You want your planning to be efficient. Sample-efficient. Indeed, you want to exploit the possible structure of the MDP by exploring only a subset of states reachable by following near-optimal policies. You want guarantees on sample complexity that depend on a measure of the quantity of near-optimal states. You want something, that is an extension of Monte-Carlo sampling (for estimating an expectation) to problems that alternate maximization (over actions) and expectation (over next states). But you do not want to StOP with exponential running time, you want something simple to implement and computationally efficient. You want it all and you want it now. You want TrailBlazer.

Maximin Action Identification: A New Bandit Framework for Games, [34]

We study an original problem of pure exploration in a strategic bandit model motivated by Monte Carlo Tree Search. It consists in identifying the best action in a game, when the player may sample random outcomes of sequentially chosen pairs of actions. We propose two strategies for the fixed-confidence setting: Maximin-LUCB, based on lower-and upper-confidence bounds; and Maximin-Racing, which operates by successively eliminating the sub-optimal actions. We discuss the sample complexity of both methods and compare their performance empirically. We sketch a lower bound analysis, and possible connections to an optimal algorithm.