Section: New Results

Decision-making Under Uncertainty

Reinforcement Learning

Model-Based Reinforcement Learning Exploiting State-Action Equivalence, [16]

Leveraging an equivalence property in the state-space of a Markov Decision Process (MDP) has been investigated in several studies. This paper studies equivalence structure in the reinforcement learning (RL) setup, where transition distributions are no longer assumed to be known. We present a notion of similarity between transition probabilities of various state-action pairs of an MDP, which naturally defines an equivalence structure in the state-action space. We present equivalence-aware confidence sets for the case where the learner knows the underlying structure in advance. These sets are provably smaller than their corresponding equivalence-oblivious counterparts. In the more challenging case of an unknown equivalence structure, we present an algorithm called ApproxEquivalence that seeks to find an (approximate) equivalence structure, and define confidence sets using the approximate equivalence. To illustrate the efficacy of the presented confidence sets, we present C-UCRL, as a natural modification of UCRL2 for RL in undiscounted MDPs. In the case of a known equivalence structure, we show that C-UCRL improves over UCRL2 in terms of regret by a factor of SA/C, in any communicating MDP with S states, A actions, and C classes, which corresponds to a massive improvement when C SA. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work providing regret bounds for RL when an equivalence structure in the MDP is efficiently exploited. In the case of an unknown equivalence structure, we show through numerical experiments that C-UCRL combined with ApproxEquivalence outperforms UCRL2 in ergodic MDPs.

Practical Open-Loop Optimistic Planning, [25]

We consider the problem of online planning in a Markov Decision Process when given only access to a generative model, restricted to open-loop policies-i.e. sequences of actions-and under budget constraint. In this setting, the Open-Loop Optimistic Planning (OLOP) algorithm enjoys good theoretical guarantees but is overly conservative in practice, as we show in numerical experiments. We propose a modified version of the algorithm with tighter upper-confidence bounds, KL-OLOP, that leads to better practical performances while retaining the sample complexity bound. Finally, we propose an efficient implementation that significantly improves the time complexity of both algorithms.

Budgeted Reinforcement Learning in Continuous State Space, [20]

A Budgeted Markov Decision Process (BMDP) is an extension of a Markov Decision Process to critical applications requiring safety constraints. It relies on a notion of risk implemented in the shape of a cost signal constrained to lie below an-adjustable-threshold. So far, BMDPs could only be solved in the case of finite state spaces with known dynamics. This work extends the state-of-the-art to continuous spaces environments and unknown dynamics. We show that the solution to a BMDP is a fixed point of a novel Budgeted Bellman Optimality operator. This observation allows us to introduce natural extensions of Deep Reinforcement Learning algorithms to address large-scale BMDPs. We validate our approach on two simulated applications: spoken dialogue and autonomous driving.

Regret Bounds for Learning State Representations in Reinforcement Learning, [29]

We consider the problem of online reinforcement learning when several state representations (mapping histories to a discrete state space) are available to the learning agent. At least one of these representations is assumed to induce a Markov decision process (MDP), and the performance of the agent is measured in terms of cumulative regret against the optimal policy giving the highest average reward in this MDP representation. We propose an algorithm (UCB-MS) with O(T) regret in any communicating MDP. The regret bound shows that UCB-MS automatically adapts to the Markov model and improves over the currently known best bound of order O(T 2/3).

Planning in entropy-regularized Markov decision processes and games, [24]

We propose SmoothCruiser, a new planning algorithm for estimating the value function in entropy-regularized Markov decision processes and two-player games, given a generative model of the environment. SmoothCruiser makes use of the smoothness of the Bellman operator promoted by the regularization to achieve problem-independent sample complexity of order O(1/ϵ 4) for a desired accuracy ϵ, whereas for non-regularized settings there are no known algorithms with guaranteed polynomial sample complexity in the worst case.

Deep reinforcement learning

”I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that” Deep Q-Learning From Forbidden Actions, [42]

The use of Reinforcement Learning (RL) is still restricted to simulation or to enhance human-operated systems through recommendations. Real-world environments (e.g. industrial robots or power grids) are generally designed with safety constraints in mind implemented in the shape of valid actions masks or contingency controllers. For example, the range of motion and the angles of the motors of a robot can be limited to physical boundaries. Violating constraints thus results in rejected actions or entering in a safe mode driven by an external controller, making RL agents incapable of learning from their mistakes. In this paper, we propose a simple modification of a state-of-the-art deep RL algorithm (DQN), enabling learning from forbidden actions. To do so, the standard Q-learning update is enhanced with an extra safety loss inspired by structured classification. We empirically show that it reduces the number of hit constraints during the learning phase and accelerates convergence to near-optimal policies compared to using standard DQN. Experiments are done on a Visual Grid World Environment and Text-World domain.

MERL: Multi-Head Reinforcement Learning, [39]

A common challenge in reinforcement learning is how to convert the agent's interactions with an environment into fast and robust learning. For instance, earlier work makes use of domain knowledge to improve existing reinforcement learning algorithms in complex tasks. While promising, previously acquired knowledge is often costly and challenging to scale up. Instead, we decide to consider problem knowledge with signals from quantities relevant to solve any task, e.g., self-performance assessment and accurate expectations. 𝒱ex is such a quantity. It is the fraction of variance explained by the value function V and measures the discrepancy between V and the returns. Taking advantage of 𝒱ex, we propose MERL, a general framework for structuring reinforcement learning by injecting problem knowledge into policy gradient updates. As a result, the agent is not only optimized for a reward but learns using problem-focused quantities provided by MERL, applicable out-of-the-box to any task. In this paper: (a) We introduce and define MERL, the multi-head reinforcement learning framework we use throughout this work. (b) We conduct experiments across a variety of standard benchmark environments, including 9 continuous control tasks, where results show improved performance. (c) We demonstrate that MERL also improves transfer learning on a set of challenging pixel-based tasks. (d) We ponder how MERL tackles the problem of reward sparsity and better conditions the feature space of reinforcement learning agents.

Self-Educated Language Agent With Hindsight Experience Replay For Instruction Following, [45]

Language creates a compact representation of the world and allows the description of unlimited situations and objectives through compositionality. These properties make it a natural fit to guide the training of interactive agents as it could ease recurrent challenges in Reinforcement Learning such as sample complexity, generalization, or multi-tasking. Yet, it remains an open-problem to relate language and RL in even simple instruction following scenarios. Current methods rely on expert demonstrations, auxiliary losses, or inductive biases in neural architectures. In this paper, we propose an orthogonal approach called Textual Hindsight Experience Replay (THER) that extends the Hindsight Experience Replay approach to the language setting. Whenever the agent does not fulfill its instruction, THER learns to output a new directive that matches the agent trajectory, and it relabels the episode with a positive reward. To do so, THER learns to map a state into an instruction by using past successful trajectories, which removes the need to have external expert interventions to relabel episodes as in vanilla HER. We observe that this simple idea also initiates a learning synergy between language acquisition and policy learning on instruction following tasks in the BabyAI environment.

High-Dimensional Control Using Generalized Auxiliary Tasks, [47]

A long-standing challenge in reinforcement learning is the design of function approximations and efficient learning algorithms that provide agents with fast training, robust learning, and high performance in complex environments. To this end, the use of prior knowledge, while promising, is often costly and, in essence, challenging to scale up. In contrast, we consider problem knowledge signals, that are any relevant indicator useful to solve a task, e.g., metrics of uncertainty or proactive prediction of future states. Our framework consists of predicting such complementary quantities associated with self-performance assessment and accurate expectations. Therefore, policy and value functions are no longer only optimized for a reward but are learned using environment-agnostic quantities. We propose a generally applicable framework for structuring reinforcement learning by injecting problem knowledge in policy gradient updates. In this paper: (a) We introduce MERL, our multi-head reinforcement learning framework for generalized auxiliary tasks. (b) We conduct experiments across a variety of standard benchmark environments. Our results show that MERL improves performance for on- and off-policy methods. (c) We show that MERL also improves transfer learning on a set of challenging tasks. (d) We investigate how our approach addresses the problem of reward sparsity and pushes the function approximations into a better-constrained parameter configuration.

Multi-armed Bandit Theory

Asymptotically Optimal Algorithms for Budgeted Multiple Play Bandits, [15]

We study a generalization of the multi-armed bandit problem with multiple plays where there is a cost associated with pulling each arm and the agent has a budget at each time that dictates how much she can expect to spend. We derive an asymptotic regret lower bound for any uniformly efficient algorithm in our setting. We then study a variant of Thompson sampling for Bernoulli rewards and a variant of KL-UCB for both single-parameter exponential families and bounded, finitely supported rewards. We show these algorithms are asymptotically optimal, both in rateand leading problem-dependent constants, including in the thick margin setting where multiple arms fall on the decision boundary.

Non-Asymptotic Pure Exploration by Solving Games, [46]

Pure exploration (aka active testing) is the fundamental task of sequentially gathering information to answer a query about a stochastic environment. Good algorithms make few mistakes and take few samples. Lower bounds (for multi-armed bandit models with arms in an exponential family) reveal that the sample complexity is determined by the solution to an optimisation problem. The existing state of the art algorithms achieve asymptotic optimality by solving a plug-in estimate of that optimisation problem at each step. We interpret the optimisation problem as an unknown game, and propose sampling rules based on iterative strategies to estimate and converge to its saddle point. We apply no-regret learners to obtain the first finite confidence guarantees that are adapted to the exponential family and which apply to any pure exploration query and bandit structure. Moreover, our algorithms only use a best response oracle instead of fully solving the optimisation problem.

Rotting bandits are not harder than stochastic ones, [32]

In bandits, arms' distributions are stationary. This is often violated in practice, where rewards change over time. In applications as recommendation systems, online advertising, and crowdsourcing, the changes may be triggered by the pulls, so that the arms' rewards change as a function of the number of pulls. In this paper, we consider the specific case of non-parametric rotting bandits, where the expected reward of an arm may decrease every time it is pulled. We introduce the filtering on expanding window average (FEWA) algorithm that at each round constructs moving averages of increasing windows to identify arms that are more likely to return high rewards when pulled once more. We prove that, without any knowledge on the decreasing behavior of the arms, FEWA achieves similar anytime problem-dependent, O(log(KT)), and problem-independent, O(sqrtKT), regret bounds of near-optimal stochastic algorithms as UCB1 of Auer et al. (2002a). This result substantially improves the prior result of Levine et al. (2017) which needed knowledge of the horizon and decaying parameters to achieve problem-independent bound of only O(K1/3T2/3). Finally, we report simulations confirming the theoretical improvements of FEWA.

Black-box Optimization

General parallel optimization without a metric, [34]

Hierarchical bandits are an approach for global optimization of extremely irregular functions. This paper provides new elements regarding POO, an adaptive meta-algorithm that does not require the knowledge of local smoothness of the target function. We first highlight the fact that the subroutine algorithm used in POO should have a small regret under the assumption of local smoothness with respect to the chosen partitioning, which is unknown if it is satisfied by the standard subroutine HOO. In this work, we establish such regret guarantee for HCT, which is another hierarchical optimistic optimization algorithm that needs to know the smoothness. This confirms the validity of POO. We show that POO can be used with HCT as a subroutine with a regret upper bound that matches the one of best-known algorithms using the knowledge of smoothness up to a logn factor. On top of that, we propose a general wrapper, called GPO, that can cope with algorithms that only have simple regret guarantees. Finally, we complement our findings with experiments on difficult functions.

A simple dynamic bandit algorithm for hyper-parameter tuning, [33]

Hyper-parameter tuning is a major part of modern machine learning systems. The tuning itself can be seen as a sequential resource allocation problem. As such, methods for multi-armed bandits have been already applied. In this paper, we view hyper-parameter optimization as an instance of best-arm identification in infinitely many-armed bandits. We propose D-TTTS, a new adaptive algorithm inspired by Thompson sampling, which dynamically balances between refining the estimate of the quality of hyper-parameter configurations previously explored and adding new hyper-parameter configurations to the pool of candidates. The algorithm is easy to implement and shows competitive performance compared to state-of-the-art algorithms for hyper-parameter tuning.

Statistics for Machine Learning

Non-asymptotic analysis of a sequential rupture detection test and its application to non-stationary bandits, [36]

We study a strategy for online change-point detection based on generalized likelihood ratios (GLR) and that can be expressed with the binary relative entropy. This test is used to detect a change in the mean of a bounded distribution, and we propose a non-asymptotic control of its false alarm probability and detection delay. We then explain how it can be useful for sequential decision making by proposing the GLR-klUCB bandit strategy, which is efficient in piece-wise stationary multi-armed bandit models.

Sequential change-point detection: Laplace concentration of scan statistics and non-asymptotic delay bounds, [27]

We consider change-point detection in a fully sequential setup, when observations are received one by one and one must raise an alarm as early as possible after any change. We assume that both the change points and the distributions before and after the change are unknown. We consider the class of piecewise-constant mean processes with sub-Gaussian noise, and we target a detection strategy that is uniformly good on this class (this constrains the false alarm rate and detection delay). We introduce a novel tuning of the GLR test that takes here a simple form involving scan statistics, based on a novel sharp concentration inequality using an extension of the Laplace method for scan-statistics that holds doubly-uniformly in time. This also considerably simplifies the implementation of the test and analysis. We provide (perhaps surprisingly) the first fully non-asymptotic analysis of the detection delay of this test that matches the known existing asymptotic orders, with fully explicit numerical constants. Then, we extend this analysis to allow some changes that are not-detectable by any uniformly-good strategy (the number of observations before and after the change are too small for it to be detected by any such algorithm), and provide the first robust, finite-time analysis of the detection delay.

Learning Multiple Markov Chains via Adaptive Allocation, [35]

We study the problem of learning the transition matrices of a set of Markov chains from a single stream of observations on each chain. We assume that the Markov chains are ergodic but otherwise unknown. The learner can sample Markov chains sequentially to observe their states. The goal of the learner is to sequentially select various chains to learn transition matrices uniformly well with respect to some loss function. We introduce a notion of loss that naturally extends the squared loss for learning distributions to the case of Markov chains, and further characterize the notion of being uniformly good in all problem instances. We present a novel learning algorithm that efficiently balances exploration and exploitation intrinsic to this problem, without any prior knowledge of the chains. We provide finite-sample PAC-type guarantees on the performance of the algorithm. Further, we show that our algorithm asymptotically attains an optimal loss.


On two ways to use determinantal point processes for Monte Carlo integration, [40]

This paper focuses on Monte Carlo integration with determinantal point processes (DPPs) which enforce negative dependence between quadrature nodes. We survey the properties of two unbiased Monte Carlo estimators of the integral of interest: a direct one proposed by Bardenet & Hardy (2016) and a less obvious 60-year-old estimator by Ermakov & Zolotukhin (1960) that actually also relies on DPPs. We provide an efficient implementation to sample exactly a particular multidimen-sional DPP called multivariate Jacobi ensemble. This let us investigate the behavior of both estima-tors on toy problems in yet unexplored regimes.