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Abstract:We consider Kernelized Bandits (KBs) to optimize a function $f : \mathcal{X} \rightarrow [0,1]$ belonging to the Reproducing Kernel Hilbert Space (RKHS) $\mathcal{H}_k$. Mainstream works on kernelized bandits focus on a subgaussian noise model in which observations of the form $f(\mathbf{x}_t)+\epsilon_t$, being $\epsilon_t$ a subgaussian noise, are available (Chowdhury and Gopalan, 2017). Differently, we focus on the case in which we observe realizations $y_t \sim \text{Ber}(f(\mathbf{x}_t))$ sampled from a Bernoulli distribution with parameter $f(\mathbf{x}_t)$. While the Bernoulli model has been investigated successfully in multi-armed bandits (Garivier and Capp\'e, 2011), logistic bandits (Faury et al., 2022), bandits in metric spaces (Magureanu et al., 2014), it remains an open question whether tight results can be obtained for KBs. This paper aims to draw the attention of the online learning community to this open problem.

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Abstract:Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning (HRL) approaches have shown successful results in solving a large variety of complex, structured, long-horizon problems. Nevertheless, a full theoretical understanding of this empirical evidence is currently missing. In the context of the \emph{option} framework, prior research has devised efficient algorithms for scenarios where options are fixed, and the high-level policy selecting among options only has to be learned. However, the fully realistic scenario in which both the high-level and the low-level policies are learned is surprisingly disregarded from a theoretical perspective. This work makes a step towards the understanding of this latter scenario. Focusing on the finite-horizon problem, we present a meta-algorithm alternating between regret minimization algorithms instanced at different (high and low) temporal abstractions. At the higher level, we treat the problem as a Semi-Markov Decision Process (SMDP), with fixed low-level policies, while at a lower level, inner option policies are learned with a fixed high-level policy. The bounds derived are compared with the lower bound for non-hierarchical finite-horizon problems, allowing to characterize when a hierarchical approach is provably preferable, even without pre-trained options.

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Abstract:Multi-task learning (MTL) is a powerful machine learning paradigm designed to leverage shared knowledge across tasks to improve generalization and performance. Previous works have proposed approaches to MTL that can be divided into feature learning, focused on the identification of a common feature representation, and task clustering, where similar tasks are grouped together. In this paper, we propose an MTL approach at the intersection between task clustering and feature transformation based on a two-phase iterative aggregation of targets and features. First, we propose a bias-variance analysis for regression models with additive Gaussian noise, where we provide a general expression of the asymptotic bias and variance of a task, considering a linear regression trained on aggregated input features and an aggregated target. Then, we exploit this analysis to provide a two-phase MTL algorithm (NonLinCTFA). Firstly, this method partitions the tasks into clusters and aggregates each obtained group of targets with their mean. Then, for each aggregated task, it aggregates subsets of features with their mean in a dimensionality reduction fashion. In both phases, a key aspect is to preserve the interpretability of the reduced targets and features through the aggregation with the mean, which is further motivated by applications to Earth science. Finally, we validate the algorithms on synthetic data, showing the effect of different parameters and real-world datasets, exploring the validity of the proposed methodology on classical datasets, recent baselines, and Earth science applications.

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Abstract:In online Inverse Reinforcement Learning (IRL), the learner can collect samples about the dynamics of the environment to improve its estimate of the reward function. Since IRL suffers from identifiability issues, many theoretical works on online IRL focus on estimating the entire set of rewards that explain the demonstrations, named the feasible reward set. However, none of the algorithms available in the literature can scale to problems with large state spaces. In this paper, we focus on the online IRL problem in Linear Markov Decision Processes (MDPs). We show that the structure offered by Linear MDPs is not sufficient for efficiently estimating the feasible set when the state space is large. As a consequence, we introduce the novel framework of rewards compatibility, which generalizes the notion of feasible set, and we develop CATY-IRL, a sample efficient algorithm whose complexity is independent of the cardinality of the state space in Linear MDPs. When restricted to the tabular setting, we demonstrate that CATY-IRL is minimax optimal up to logarithmic factors. As a by-product, we show that Reward-Free Exploration (RFE) enjoys the same worst-case rate, improving over the state-of-the-art lower bound. Finally, we devise a unifying framework for IRL and RFE that may be of independent interest.

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Abstract:In bandit best-arm identification, an algorithm is tasked with finding the arm with highest mean reward with a specified accuracy as fast as possible. We study multi-fidelity best-arm identification, in which the algorithm can choose to sample an arm at a lower fidelity (less accurate mean estimate) for a lower cost. Several methods have been proposed for tackling this problem, but their optimality remain elusive, notably due to loose lower bounds on the total cost needed to identify the best arm. Our first contribution is a tight, instance-dependent lower bound on the cost complexity. The study of the optimization problem featured in the lower bound provides new insights to devise computationally efficient algorithms, and leads us to propose a gradient-based approach with asymptotically optimal cost complexity. We demonstrate the benefits of the new algorithm compared to existing methods in experiments. Our theoretical and empirical findings also shed light on an intriguing concept of optimal fidelity for each arm.

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Abstract:We consider the problem of learning an $\varepsilon$-optimal policy in a general class of continuous-space Markov decision processes (MDPs) having smooth Bellman operators. Given access to a generative model, we achieve rate-optimal sample complexity by performing a simple, \emph{perturbed} version of least-squares value iteration with orthogonal trigonometric polynomials as features. Key to our solution is a novel projection technique based on ideas from harmonic analysis. Our~$\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(\epsilon^{-2-d/(\nu+1)})$ sample complexity, where $d$ is the dimension of the state-action space and $\nu$ the order of smoothness, recovers the state-of-the-art result of discretization approaches for the special case of Lipschitz MDPs $(\nu=0)$. At the same time, for $\nu\to\infty$, it recovers and greatly generalizes the $\mathcal{O}(\epsilon^{-2})$ rate of low-rank MDPs, which are more amenable to regression approaches. In this sense, our result bridges the gap between two popular but conflicting perspectives on continuous-space MDPs.

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Abstract:Importance sampling (IS) represents a fundamental technique for a large surge of off-policy reinforcement learning approaches. Policy gradient (PG) methods, in particular, significantly benefit from IS, enabling the effective reuse of previously collected samples, thus increasing sample efficiency. However, classically, IS is employed in RL as a passive tool for re-weighting historical samples. However, the statistical community employs IS as an active tool combined with the use of behavioral distributions that allow the reduction of the estimate variance even below the sample mean one. In this paper, we focus on this second setting by addressing the behavioral policy optimization (BPO) problem. We look for the best behavioral policy from which to collect samples to reduce the policy gradient variance as much as possible. We provide an iterative algorithm that alternates between the cross-entropy estimation of the minimum-variance behavioral policy and the actual policy optimization, leveraging on defensive IS. We theoretically analyze such an algorithm, showing that it enjoys a convergence rate of order $O(\epsilon^{-4})$ to a stationary point, but depending on a more convenient variance term w.r.t. standard PG methods. We then provide a practical version that is numerically validated, showing the advantages in the policy gradient estimation variance and on the learning speed.

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Abstract:Policy gradient (PG) methods are successful approaches to deal with continuous reinforcement learning (RL) problems. They learn stochastic parametric (hyper)policies by either exploring in the space of actions or in the space of parameters. Stochastic controllers, however, are often undesirable from a practical perspective because of their lack of robustness, safety, and traceability. In common practice, stochastic (hyper)policies are learned only to deploy their deterministic version. In this paper, we make a step towards the theoretical understanding of this practice. After introducing a novel framework for modeling this scenario, we study the global convergence to the best deterministic policy, under (weak) gradient domination assumptions. Then, we illustrate how to tune the exploration level used for learning to optimize the trade-off between the sample complexity and the performance of the deployed deterministic policy. Finally, we quantitatively compare action-based and parameter-based exploration, giving a formal guise to intuitive results.

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Abstract:Inverse reinforcement learning (IRL) aims to recover the reward function of an expert agent from demonstrations of behavior. It is well known that the IRL problem is fundamentally ill-posed, i.e., many reward functions can explain the demonstrations. For this reason, IRL has been recently reframed in terms of estimating the feasible reward set, thus, postponing the selection of a single reward. However, so far, the available formulations and algorithmic solutions have been proposed and analyzed mainly for the online setting, where the learner can interact with the environment and query the expert at will. This is clearly unrealistic in most practical applications, where the availability of an offline dataset is a much more common scenario. In this paper, we introduce a novel notion of feasible reward set capturing the opportunities and limitations of the offline setting and we analyze the complexity of its estimation. This requires the introduction an original learning framework that copes with the intrinsic difficulty of the setting, for which the data coverage is not under control. Then, we propose two computationally and statistically efficient algorithms, IRLO and PIRLO, for addressing the problem. In particular, the latter adopts a specific form of pessimism to enforce the novel desirable property of inclusion monotonicity of the delivered feasible set. With this work, we aim to provide a panorama of the challenges of the offline IRL problem and how they can be fruitfully addressed.

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Authors:Alberto Maria Metelli

Abstract:Configurable Markov Decision Processes (Conf-MDPs) have recently been introduced as an extension of the traditional Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) to model the real-world scenarios in which there is the possibility to intervene in the environment in order to configure some of its parameters. In this paper, we focus on a particular subclass of Conf-MDP that satisfies regularity conditions, namely Lipschitz continuity. We start by providing a bound on the Wasserstein distance between $\gamma$-discounted stationary distributions induced by changing policy and configuration. This result generalizes the already existing bounds both for Conf-MDPs and traditional MDPs. Then, we derive a novel performance improvement lower bound.

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