Section: New Results

Decision-making Under Uncertainty

Reinforcement Learning

Thompson Sampling for Linear-Quadratic Control Problems, [22]

We consider the exploration-exploitation tradeoff in linear quadratic (LQ) control problems, where the state dynamics is linear and the cost function is quadratic in states and controls. We analyze the regret of Thompson sampling (TS) (a.k.a. posterior-sampling for reinforcement learning) in the frequentist setting, i.e., when the parameters characterizing the LQ dynamics are fixed. Despite the empirical and theoretical success in a wide range of problems from multi-armed bandit to linear bandit, we show that when studying the frequentist regret TS in control problems, we need to trade-off the frequency of sampling optimistic parameters and the frequency of switches in the control policy. This results in an overall regret of O(T2/3), which is significantly worse than the regret O(T) achieved by the optimism-in-face-of-uncertainty algorithm in LQ control problems.

Exploration–Exploitation in MDPs with Options, [33]

While a large body of empirical results show that temporally-extended actions and options may significantly affect the learning performance of an agent, the theoretical understanding of how and when options can be beneficial in online reinforcement learning is relatively limited. In this paper, we derive an upper and lower bound on the regret of a variant of UCRL using options. While we first analyze the algorithm in the general case of semi-Markov decision processes (SMDPs), we show how these results can be translated to the specific case of MDPs with options and we illustrate simple scenarios in which the regret of learning with options can be provably much smaller than the regret suffered when learning with primitive actions.

Regret Minimization in MDPs with Options without Prior Knowledge, [34]

The option framework integrates temporal abstraction into the reinforcement learning model through the introduction of macro-actions (i.e., options). Recent works leveraged the mapping of Markov decision processes (MDPs) with options to semi-MDPs (SMDPs) and introduced SMDP-versions of exploration-exploitation algorithms (e.g., RMAX-SMDP and UCRL-SMDP) to analyze the impact of options on the learning performance. Nonetheless, the PAC-SMDP sample complexity of RMAX-SMDP can hardly be translated into equivalent PAC-MDP theoretical guarantees, while the regret analysis of UCRL-SMDP requires prior knowledge of the distributions of the cumulative reward and duration of each option, which are hardly available in practice. In this paper, we remove this limitation by combining the SMDP view together with the inner Markov structure of options into a novel algorithm whose regret performance matches UCRL-SMDP's up to an additive regret term. We show scenarios where this term is negligible and the advantage of temporal abstraction is preserved. We also report preliminary empirical results supporting the theoretical findings.

Is the Bellman Residual a Bad Proxy?, [36]

This paper aims at theoretically and empirically comparing two standard optimization criteria for Reinforcement Learning: i) maximization of the mean value and ii) minimization of the Bellman residual. For that purpose, we place ourselves in the framework of policy search algorithms, that are usually designed to maximize the mean value, and derive a method that minimizes the residual T * v π – v π 1,ν over policies. A theoretical analysis shows how good this proxy is to policy optimization , and notably that it is better than its value-based counterpart. We also propose experiments on randomly generated generic Markov decision processes, specifically designed for studying the influence of the involved concentrability coefficient. They show that the Bellman residual is generally a bad proxy to policy optimization and that directly maximizing the mean value is much better, despite the current lack of deep theoretical analysis. This might seem obvious, as directly addressing the problem of interest is usually better, but given the prevalence of (projected) Bellman residual minimization in value-based reinforcement learning, we believe that this question is worth to be considered.

Faut-il minimiser le résidu de Bellman ou maximiser la valeur moyenne ?, [56]

Transfer Reinforcement Learning with Shared Dynamics, [38]

This article addresses a particular Transfer Reinforcement Learning (RL) problem: when dynamics do not change from one task to another, and only the reward function does. Our method relies on two ideas, the first one is that transition samples obtained from a task can be reused to learn on any other task: an immediate reward estimator is learnt in a supervised fashion and for each sample, the reward entry is changed by its reward estimate. The second idea consists in adopting the optimism in the face of uncertainty principle and to use upper bound reward estimates. Our method is tested on a navigation task, under four Transfer RL experimental settings: with a known reward function, with strong and weak expert knowledge on the reward function, and with a completely unknown reward function. It is also evaluated in a Multi-Task RL experiment and compared with the state-of-the-art algorithms. Results reveal that this method constitutes a major improvement for transfer/multi-task problems that share dynamics.

Multi-arm Bandit Theory

Trading Off Rewards and Errors in Multi-armed Bandits, [31]

In multi-armed bandits, the most common objective is the maximization of the cumulative reward. Alternative settings include active exploration, where a learner tries to gain accurate estimates of the rewards of all arms. While these objectives are contrasting, in many scenarios it is desirable to trade off rewards and errors. For instance, in educational games the designer wants to gather generalizable knowledge about the behavior of the students and teaching strategies (small estimation errors) but, at the same time, the system needs to avoid giving a bad experience to the players, who may leave the system permanently (large reward). In this paper, we formalize this tradeoff and introduce the ForcingBalance algorithm whose performance is provably close to the best possible tradeoff strategy. Finally, we demonstrate on real-world educational data that ForcingBalance returns useful information about the arms without compromising the overall reward.

Online Influence Maximization Under Independent Cascade Model with Semi-bandit Feedback, [54]

We study the online influence maximization problem in social networks under the independent cascade model. Specifically, we aim to learn the set of ” best influencers ” in a social network online while repeatedly interacting with it. We address the challenges of (i) combinatorial action space, since the number of feasible influencer sets grows exponentially with the maximum number of influencers, and (ii) limited feedback, since only the influenced portion of the network is observed. Under a stochastic semi-bandit feedback, we propose and analyze IMLinUCB, a computationally efficient UCB-based algorithm. Our bounds on the cumulative regret are polynomial in all quantities of interest, achieve near-optimal dependence on the number of interactions and reflect the topology of the network and the activation probabilities of its edges, thereby giving insights on the problem complexity. To the best of our knowledge, these are the first such results. Our experiments show that in several representative graph topologies, the regret of IMLinUCB scales as suggested by our upper bounds. IMLinUCB permits linear generalization and thus is both statistically and computationally suitable for large-scale problems. Our experiments also show that IMLinUCB with linear generalization can lead to low regret in real-world online influence maximization.

Boundary Crossing for General Exponential Families, [39]

We consider parametric exponential families of dimension K on the real line. We study a variant of boundary crossing probabilities coming from the multi-armed bandit literature, in the case when the real-valued distributions form an exponential family of dimension K. Formally, our result is a concentration inequality that bounds the probability that B ψ (θ n , θ) f (t/n)/n, where θ is the parameter of an unknown target distribution, θ n is the empirical parameter estimate built from n observations, ψ is the log-partition function of the exponential family and B ψ is the corresponding Bregman divergence. From the perspective of stochastic multi-armed bandits, we pay special attention to the case when the boundary function f is logarithmic, as it enables to analyze the regret of the state-of-the-art KL-ucb and KL-ucb+ strategies, whose analysis was left open in such generality. Indeed, previous results only hold for the case when K = 1, while we provide results for arbitrary finite dimension K, thus considerably extending the existing results. Perhaps surprisingly, we highlight that the proof techniques to achieve these strong results already existed three decades ago in the work of T.L. Lai, and were apparently forgotten in the bandit community. We provide a modern rewriting of these beautiful techniques that we believe are useful beyond the application to stochastic multi-armed bandits.

The Non-stationary Stochastic Multi-armed Bandit Problem, Robin, Féraud, Maillard [64] (This work has been done while OA. Maillard was at Inria Saclay, in the TAO team.)

Linear Thompson Sampling Revisited, [21]

We derive an alternative proof for the regret of Thompson sampling (TS) in the stochastic linear bandit setting. While we obtain a regret bound of order O˜(d3/2T) as in previous results, the proof sheds new light on the functioning of the TS. We leverage on the structure of the problem to show how the regret is related to the sensitivity (i.e., the gradient) of the objective function and how selecting optimal arms associated to optimistic parameters does control it. Thus we show that TS can be seen as a generic randomized algorithm where the sampling distribution is designed to have a fixed probability of being optimistic, at the cost of an additional d regret factor compared to a UCB-like approach. Furthermore, we show that our proof can be readily applied to regularized linear optimization and generalized linear model problems.

Active Learning for Accurate Estimation of Linear Models, [47]

We explore the sequential decision-making problem where the goal is to estimate a number of linear models uniformly well, given a shared budget of random contexts independently sampled from a known distribution. For each incoming context, the decision-maker selects one of the linear models and receives an observation that is corrupted by the unknown noise level of that model. We present Trace-UCB, an adaptive allocation algorithm that learns the models' noise levels while balancing contexts accordingly across them, and prove bounds for its simple regret in both expectation and high-probability. We extend the algorithm and its bounds to the high dimensional setting , where the number of linear models times the dimension of the contexts is more than the total budget of samples. Simulations with real data suggest that Trace-UCB is remarkably robust , outperforming a number of baselines even when its assumptions are violated.

Learning the Distribution with Largest Mean: Two Bandit Frameworks, [18]

Over the past few years, the multi-armed bandit model has become increasingly popular in the machine learning community, partly because of applications including online content optimization. This paper reviews two different sequential learning tasks that have been considered in the bandit literature ; they can be formulated as (sequentially) learning which distribution has the highest mean among a set of distributions, with some constraints on the learning process. For both of them (regret minimization and best arm identification) we present recent, asymptotically optimal algorithms. We compare the behaviors of the sampling rule of each algorithm as well as the complexity terms associated to each problem.

On Bayesian Index Policies for Sequential Resource Allocation, [19]

This paper is about index policies for minimizing (frequentist) regret in a stochastic multi-armed bandit model, inspired by a Bayesian view on the problem. Our main contribution is to prove that the Bayes-UCB algorithm, which relies on quantiles of posterior distributions, is asymptotically optimal when the reward distributions belong to a one-dimensional exponential family, for a large class of prior distributions. We also show that the Bayesian literature gives new insight on what kind of exploration rates could be used in frequentist, UCB-type algorithms. Indeed, approximations of the Bayesian optimal solution or the Finite Horizon Gittins indices provide a justification for the kl-UCB+ and kl-UCB-H+ algorithms, whose asymptotic optimality is also established.

Multi-Player Bandits Models Revisited, [59]

Multi-player Multi-Armed Bandits (MAB) have been extensively studied in the literature, motivated by applications to Cognitive Radio systems. Driven by such applications as well, we motivate the introduction of several levels of feedback for multi-player MAB algorithms. Most existing work assume that sensing information is available to the algorithm. Under this assumption, we improve the state-of-the-art lower bound for the regret of any decentralized algorithms and introduce two algorithms, RandTopM and MCTopM, that are shown to empirically outperform existing algorithms. Moreover, we provide strong theoretical guarantees for these algorithms, including a notion of asymptotic optimality in terms of the number of selections of bad arms. We then introduce a promising heuristic, called Selfish, that can operate without sensing information, which is crucial for emerging applications to Internet of Things networks. We investigate the empirical performance of this algorithm and provide some first theoretical elements for the understanding of its behavior.

Multi-Armed Bandit Learning in IoT Networks: Learning helps even in non-stationary settings, [57]

Setting up the future Internet of Things (IoT) networks will require to support more and more communicating devices. We prove that intelligent devices in unlicensed bands can use Multi-Armed Bandit (MAB) learning algorithms to improve resource exploitation. We evaluate the performance of two classical MAB learning algorithms, UCB1 and Thompson Sampling, to handle the decentralized decision-making of Spectrum Access, applied to IoT networks; as well as learning performance with a growing number of intelligent end-devices. We show that using learning algorithms does help to fit more devices in such networks, even when all end-devices are intelligent and are dynamically changing channel. In the studied scenario, stochastic MAB learning provides a up to 16% gain in term of successful transmission probabilities, and has near optimal performance even in non-stationary and non-i.i.d. settings with a majority of intelligent devices.

Nonparametric Statistics of Time Series

Efficient Tracking of a Growing Number of Experts, [41]

We consider a variation on the problem of prediction with expert advice, where new forecasters that were unknown until then may appear at each round. As often in prediction with expert advice, designing an algorithm that achieves near-optimal regret guarantees is straightforward, using aggregation of experts. However, when the comparison class is sufficiently rich, for instance when the best expert and the set of experts itself changes over time, such strategies naively require to maintain a prohibitive number of weights (typically exponential with the time horizon). By contrast, designing strategies that both achieve a near-optimal regret and maintain a reasonable number of weights is highly non-trivial. We consider three increasingly challenging objectives (simple regret, shifting regret and sparse shifting regret) that extend existing notions defined for a fixed expert ensemble; in each case, we design strategies that achieve tight regret bounds, adaptive to the parameters of the comparison class, while being computationally inexpensive. Moreover, our algorithms are anytime , agnostic to the number of incoming experts and completely parameter-free. Such remarkable results are made possible thanks to two simple but highly effective recipes: first the ” abstention trick ” that comes from the specialist framework and enables to handle the least challenging notions of regret, but is limited when addressing more sophisticated objectives. Second, the ” muting trick ” that we introduce to give more flexibility. We show how to combine these two tricks in order to handle the most challenging class of comparison strategies.

Stochastic Games

Monte-Carlo Tree Search by Best Arm Identification, [37]

Recent advances in bandit tools and techniques for sequential learning are steadily enabling new applications and are promising the resolution of a range of challenging related problems. We study the game tree search problem, where the goal is to quickly identify the optimal move in a given game tree by sequentially sampling its stochastic payoffs. We develop new algorithms for trees of arbitrary depth, that operate by summarizing all deeper levels of the tree into confidence intervals at depth one, and applying a best arm identification procedure at the root. We prove new sample complexity guarantees with a refined dependence on the problem instance. We show experimentally that our algorithms outperform existing elimination-based algorithms and match previous special-purpose methods for depth-two trees.

Learning Nash Equilibrium for General-Sum Markov Games from Batch Data, [46]

This paper addresses the problem of learning a Nash equilibrium in γ-discounted mul-tiplayer general-sum Markov Games (MGs) in a batch setting. As the number of players increases in MG, the agents may either collaborate or team apart to increase their final rewards. One solution to address this problem is to look for a Nash equilibrium. Although , several techniques were found for the subcase of two-player zero-sum MGs, those techniques fail to find a Nash equilibrium in general-sum Markov Games. In this paper, we introduce a new definition of-Nash equilibrium in MGs which grasps the strategy's quality for multiplayer games. We prove that minimizing the norm of two Bellman-like residuals implies to learn such an-Nash equilibrium. Then, we show that minimizing an empirical estimate of the L p norm of these Bellman-like residuals allows learning for general-sum games within the batch setting. Finally, we introduce a neural network architecture that successfully learns a Nash equilibrium in generic multiplayer general-sum turn-based MGs.

Automata Learning

Spectral Learning from a Single Trajectory under Finite-State Policies, [23]

We present spectral methods of moments for learning sequential models from a single trajectory, in stark contrast with the classical literature that assumes the availability of multiple i.i.d. trajectories. Our approach leverages an efficient SVD-based learning algorithm for weighted automata and provides the first rigorous analysis for learning many important models using dependent data. We state and analyze the algorithm under three increasingly difficult scenarios: probabilistic automata, stochastic weighted automata, and reactive predictive state representations controlled by a finite-state policy. Our proofs include novel tools for studying mixing properties of stochastic weighted automata.

Online Kernel and Graph-Based Methods

Distributed Adaptive Sampling for Kernel Matrix Approximation, [26]

Most kernel-based methods, such as kernel regression, kernel PCA, ICA, or k-means clustering, do not scale to large datasets, because constructing and storing the kernel matrix 𝐊n requires at least O(n2) time and space for n samples. Recent works (Alaoui 2014, Musco 2016) show that sampling points with replacement according to their ridge leverage scores (RLS) generates small dictionaries of relevant points with strong spectral approximation guarantees for 𝐊n. The drawback of RLS-based methods is that computing exact RLS requires constructing and storing the whole kernel matrix. In this paper, we introduce SQUEAK, a new algorithm for kernel approximation based on RLS sampling that sequentially processes the dataset, storing a dictionary which creates accurate kernel matrix approximations with a number of points that only depends on the effective dimension d eff (γ) of the dataset. Moreover since all the RLS estimations are efficiently performed using only the small dictionary, SQUEAK never constructs the whole matrix 𝐊n runs in linear time O˜(nd eff (γ)3) w.r.t. n, and requires only a single pass over the dataset. We also propose a parallel and distributed version of SQUEAK achieving similar accuracy in as little as O˜(log(n)d eff (γ)3) time.

Second-Order Kernel Online Convex Optimization with Adaptive Sketching, [28]

Kernel online convex optimization (KOCO) is a framework combining the expressiveness of non-parametric kernel models with the regret guarantees of online learning. First-order KOCO methods such as functional gradient descent require only O(t) time and space per iteration, and, when the only information on the losses is their convexity, achieve a minimax optimal O(T) regret. Nonetheless, many common losses in kernel problems, such as squared loss, logistic loss, and squared hinge loss posses stronger curvature that can be exploited. In this case, second-order KOCO methods achieve O(log(Det(K))) regret, which we show scales as O(defflogT), where deff is the effective dimension of the problem and is usually much smaller than O(T). The main drawback of second-order methods is their much higher O(t2) space and time complexity. In this paper, we introduce kernel online Newton step (KONS), a new second-order KOCO method that also achieves O(defflogT) regret. To address the computational complexity of second-order methods, we introduce a new matrix sketching algorithm for the kernel matrix K, and show that for a chosen parameter γ1 our Sketched-KONS reduces the space and time complexity by a factor of γ2 to O(t2γ2) space and time per iteration, while incurring only 1/γ times more regret.

Efficient Second-order Online Kernel Learning with Adaptive Embedding, [27]

Online kernel learning (OKL) is a flexible framework to approach prediction problems, since the large approximation space provided by reproducing kernel Hilbert spaces can contain an accurate function for the problem. Nonetheless, optimizing over this space is computationally expensive. Not only first order methods accumulate O(T) more loss than the optimal function, but the curse of kernelization results in a O(t) per step complexity. Second-order methods get closer to the optimum much faster, suffering only O(log(T)) regret, but second-order updates are even more expensive, with a O(t2) per-step cost. Existing approximate OKL methods try to reduce this complexity either by limiting the Support Vectors (SV) introduced in the predictor, or by avoiding the kernelization process altogether using embedding. Nonetheless, as long as the size of the approximation space or the number of SV does not grow over time, an adversary can always exploit the approximation process. In this paper, we propose PROS-N-KONS, a method that combines Nystrom sketching to project the input point in a small, accurate embedded space, and performs efficient second-order updates in this space. The embedded space is continuously updated to guarantee that the embedding remains accurate, and we show that the per-step cost only grows with the effective dimension of the problem and not with T. Moreover, the second-order updated allows us to achieve the logarithmic regret. We empirically compare our algorithm on recent large-scales benchmarks and show it performs favorably.

Zonotope Hit-and-run for Efficient Sampling from Projection DPPs, [35]

Determinantal point processes (DPPs) are distributions over sets of items that model diversity using kernels. Their applications in machine learning include summary extraction and recommendation systems. Yet, the cost of sampling from a DPP is prohibitive in large-scale applications, which has triggered an effort towards efficient approximate samplers. We build a novel MCMC sampler that combines ideas from combinatorial geometry, linear programming, and Monte Carlo methods to sample from DPPs with a fixed sample cardinality, also called projection DPPs. Our sampler leverages the ability of the hit-and-run MCMC kernel to efficiently move across convex bodies. Previous theoretical results yield a fast mixing time of our chain when targeting a distribution that is close to a projection DPP, but not a DPP in general. Our empirical results demonstrate that this extends to sampling projection DPPs, i.e., our sampler is more sample-efficient than previous approaches which in turn translates to faster convergence when dealing with costly-to-evaluate functions, such as summary extraction in our experiments.