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Elena Gal, Shaun Singh, Aldo Pacchiano, Ben Walker, Terry Lyons, Jakob Foerster

In many real world settings binary classification decisions are made based on limited data in near real-time, e.g. when assessing a loan application. We focus on a class of these problems that share a common feature: the true label is only observed when a data point is assigned a positive label by the principal, e.g. we only find out whether an applicant defaults if we accepted their loan application. As a consequence, the false rejections become self-reinforcing and cause the labelled training set, that is being continuously updated by the model decisions, to accumulate bias. Prior work mitigates this effect by injecting optimism into the model, however this comes at the cost of increased false acceptance rate. We introduce adversarial optimism (AdOpt) to directly address bias in the training set using adversarial domain adaptation. The goal of AdOpt is to learn an unbiased but informative representation of past data, by reducing the distributional shift between the set of accepted data points and all data points seen thus far. AdOpt significantly exceeds state-of-the-art performance on a set of challenging benchmark problems. Our experiments also provide initial evidence that the introduction of adversarial domain adaptation improves fairness in this setting.

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Parnian Kassraie, Aldo Pacchiano, Nicolas Emmenegger, Andreas Krause

Model selection in the context of bandit optimization is a challenging problem, as it requires balancing exploration and exploitation not only for action selection, but also for model selection. One natural approach is to rely on online learning algorithms that treat different models as experts. Existing methods, however, scale poorly ($\text{poly}M$) with the number of models $M$ in terms of their regret. Our key insight is that, for model selection in linear bandits, we can emulate full-information feedback to the online learner with a favorable bias-variance trade-off. This allows us to develop ALEXP, which has an exponentially improved ($\log M$) dependence on $M$ for its regret. ALEXP has anytime guarantees on its regret, and neither requires knowledge of the horizon $n$, nor relies on an initial purely exploratory stage. Our approach utilizes a novel time-uniform analysis of the Lasso, establishing a new connection between online learning and high-dimensional statistics.

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Jonathan N. Lee, Annie Xie, Aldo Pacchiano, Yash Chandak, Chelsea Finn, Ofir Nachum, Emma Brunskill

Large transformer models trained on diverse datasets have shown a remarkable ability to learn in-context, achieving high few-shot performance on tasks they were not explicitly trained to solve. In this paper, we study the in-context learning capabilities of transformers in decision-making problems, i.e., reinforcement learning (RL) for bandits and Markov decision processes. To do so, we introduce and study Decision-Pretrained Transformer (DPT), a supervised pretraining method where the transformer predicts an optimal action given a query state and an in-context dataset of interactions, across a diverse set of tasks. This procedure, while simple, produces a model with several surprising capabilities. We find that the pretrained transformer can be used to solve a range of RL problems in-context, exhibiting both exploration online and conservatism offline, despite not being explicitly trained to do so. The model also generalizes beyond the pretraining distribution to new tasks and automatically adapts its decision-making strategies to unknown structure. Theoretically, we show DPT can be viewed as an efficient implementation of Bayesian posterior sampling, a provably sample-efficient RL algorithm. We further leverage this connection to provide guarantees on the regret of the in-context algorithm yielded by DPT, and prove that it can learn faster than algorithms used to generate the pretraining data. These results suggest a promising yet simple path towards instilling strong in-context decision-making abilities in transformers.

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Nataly Brukhim, Miroslav Dudik, Aldo Pacchiano, Robert Schapire

We study an abstract framework for interactive learning called interactive estimation in which the goal is to estimate a target from its "similarity'' to points queried by the learner. We introduce a combinatorial measure called dissimilarity dimension which largely captures learnability in our model. We present a simple, general, and broadly-applicable algorithm, for which we obtain both regret and PAC generalization bounds that are polynomial in the new dimension. We show that our framework subsumes and thereby unifies two classic learning models: statistical-query learning and structured bandits. We also delineate how the dissimilarity dimension is related to well-known parameters for both frameworks, in some cases yielding significantly improved analyses.

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Aldo Pacchiano, Christoph Dann, Claudio Gentile

We consider model selection for sequential decision making in stochastic environments with bandit feedback, where a meta-learner has at its disposal a pool of base learners, and decides on the fly which action to take based on the policies recommended by each base learner. Model selection is performed by regret balancing but, unlike the recent literature on this subject, we do not assume any prior knowledge about the base learners like candidate regret guarantees; instead, we uncover these quantities in a data-driven manner. The meta-learner is therefore able to leverage the realized regret incurred by each base learner for the learning environment at hand (as opposed to the expected regret), and single out the best such regret. We design two model selection algorithms operating with this more ambitious notion of regret and, besides proving model selection guarantees via regret balancing, we experimentally demonstrate the compelling practical benefits of dealing with actual regrets instead of candidate regret bounds.

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Sinong Geng, Aldo Pacchiano, Andrey Kolobov, Ching-An Cheng

We propose Heuristic Blending (HUBL), a simple performance-improving technique for a broad class of offline RL algorithms based on value bootstrapping. HUBL modifies Bellman operators used in these algorithms, partially replacing the bootstrapped values with Monte-Carlo returns as heuristics. For trajectories with higher returns, HUBL relies more on heuristics and less on bootstrapping; otherwise, it leans more heavily on bootstrapping. We show that this idea can be easily implemented by relabeling the offline datasets with adjusted rewards and discount factors, making HUBL readily usable by many existing offline RL implementations. We theoretically prove that HUBL reduces offline RL's complexity and thus improves its finite-sample performance. Furthermore, we empirically demonstrate that HUBL consistently improves the policy quality of four state-of-the-art bootstrapping-based offline RL algorithms (ATAC, CQL, TD3+BC, and IQL), by 9% on average over 27 datasets of the D4RL and Meta-World benchmarks.

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Jonathan N. Lee, Weihao Kong, Aldo Pacchiano, Vidya Muthukumar, Emma Brunskill

In many bandit problems, the maximal reward achievable by a policy is often unknown in advance. We consider the problem of estimating the optimal policy value in the sublinear data regime before the optimal policy is even learnable. We refer to this as $V^*$ estimation. It was recently shown that fast $V^*$ estimation is possible but only in disjoint linear bandits with Gaussian covariates. Whether this is possible for more realistic context distributions has remained an open and important question for tasks such as model selection. In this paper, we first provide lower bounds showing that this general problem is hard. However, under stronger assumptions, we give an algorithm and analysis proving that $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(\sqrt{d})$ sublinear estimation of $V^*$ is indeed information-theoretically possible, where $d$ is the dimension. We then present a more practical, computationally efficient algorithm that estimates a problem-dependent upper bound on $V^*$ that holds for general distributions and is tight when the context distribution is Gaussian. We prove our algorithm requires only $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(\sqrt{d})$ samples to estimate the upper bound. We use this upper bound and the estimator to obtain novel and improved guarantees for several applications in bandit model selection and testing for treatment effects.

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Abhi Gupta, Ted Moskovitz, David Alvarez-Melis, Aldo Pacchiano

Transferring knowledge across domains is one of the most fundamental problems in machine learning, but doing so effectively in the context of reinforcement learning remains largely an open problem. Current methods make strong assumptions on the specifics of the task, often lack principled objectives, and -- crucially -- modify individual policies, which might be sub-optimal when the domains differ due to a drift in the state space, i.e., it is intrinsic to the environment and therefore affects every agent interacting with it. To address these drawbacks, we propose TvD: transfer via distribution matching, a framework to transfer knowledge across interactive domains. We approach the problem from a data-centric perspective, characterizing the discrepancy in environments by means of (potentially complex) transformation between their state spaces, and thus posing the problem of transfer as learning to undo this transformation. To accomplish this, we introduce a novel optimization objective based on an optimal transport distance between two distributions over trajectories -- those generated by an already-learned policy in the source domain and a learnable pushforward policy in the target domain. We show this objective leads to a policy update scheme reminiscent of imitation learning, and derive an efficient algorithm to implement it. Our experiments in simple gridworlds show that this method yields successful transfer learning across a wide range of environment transformations.

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Andrew Wagenmaker, Aldo Pacchiano

Two central paradigms have emerged in the reinforcement learning (RL) community: online RL and offline RL. In the online RL setting, the agent has no prior knowledge of the environment, and must interact with it in order to find an $\epsilon$-optimal policy. In the offline RL setting, the learner instead has access to a fixed dataset to learn from, but is unable to otherwise interact with the environment, and must obtain the best policy it can from this offline data. Practical scenarios often motivate an intermediate setting: if we have some set of offline data and, in addition, may also interact with the environment, how can we best use the offline data to minimize the number of online interactions necessary to learn an $\epsilon$-optimal policy? In this work, we consider this setting, which we call the \textsf{FineTuneRL} setting, for MDPs with linear structure. We characterize the necessary number of online samples needed in this setting given access to some offline dataset, and develop an algorithm, \textsc{FTPedel}, which is provably optimal. We show through an explicit example that combining offline data with online interactions can lead to a provable improvement over either purely offline or purely online RL. Finally, our results illustrate the distinction between \emph{verifiable} learning, the typical setting considered in online RL, and \emph{unverifiable} learning, the setting often considered in offline RL, and show that there is a formal separation between these regimes.

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Yingchen Xu, Jack Parker-Holder, Aldo Pacchiano, Philip J. Ball, Oleh Rybkin, Stephen J. Roberts, Tim Rocktäschel, Edward Grefenstette

Building generally capable agents is a grand challenge for deep reinforcement learning (RL). To approach this challenge practically, we outline two key desiderata: 1) to facilitate generalization, exploration should be task agnostic; 2) to facilitate scalability, exploration policies should collect large quantities of data without costly centralized retraining. Combining these two properties, we introduce the reward-free deployment efficiency setting, a new paradigm for RL research. We then present CASCADE, a novel approach for self-supervised exploration in this new setting. CASCADE seeks to learn a world model by collecting data with a population of agents, using an information theoretic objective inspired by Bayesian Active Learning. CASCADE achieves this by specifically maximizing the diversity of trajectories sampled by the population through a novel cascading objective. We provide theoretical intuition for CASCADE which we show in a tabular setting improves upon na\"ive approaches that do not account for population diversity. We then demonstrate that CASCADE collects diverse task-agnostic datasets and learns agents that generalize zero-shot to novel, unseen downstream tasks on Atari, MiniGrid, Crafter and the DM Control Suite. Code and videos are available at https://ycxuyingchen.github.io/cascade/

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