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Simon S. Du, Akshay Krishnamurthy, Nan Jiang, Alekh Agarwal, Miroslav Dudík, John Langford

We study the exploration problem in episodic MDPs with rich observations generated from a small number of latent states. Under certain identifiability assumptions, we demonstrate how to estimate a mapping from the observations to latent states inductively through a sequence of regression and clustering steps---where previously decoded latent states provide labels for later regression problems---and use it to construct good exploration policies. We provide finite-sample guarantees on the quality of the learned state decoding function and exploration policies, and complement our theory with an empirical evaluation on a class of hard exploration problems. Our method exponentially improves over $Q$-learning with na\"ive exploration, even when $Q$-learning has cheating access to latent states.

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Chicheng Zhang, Alekh Agarwal, Hal Daumé III, John Langford, Sahand N Negahban

We investigate the feasibility of learning from both fully-labeled supervised data and contextual bandit data. We specifically consider settings in which the underlying learning signal may be different between these two data sources. Theoretically, we state and prove no-regret algorithms for learning that is robust to divergences between the two sources. Empirically, we evaluate some of these algorithms on a large selection of datasets, showing that our approaches are feasible, and helpful in practice.

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Wen Sun, Nan Jiang, Akshay Krishnamurthy, Alekh Agarwal, John Langford

We study the sample complexity of model-based reinforcement learning in general contextual decision processes. We design new algorithms for RL with an abstract model class and analyze their statistical properties. Our algorithms have sample complexity governed by a new structural parameter called the witness rank, which we show to be small in several settings of interest, including Factored MDPs and reactive POMDPs. We also show that the witness rank of a problem is never larger than the recently proposed Bellman rank parameter governing the sample complexity of the model-free algorithm OLIVE (Jiang et al., 2017), the only other provably sample efficient algorithm at this level of generality. Focusing on the special case of Factored MDPs, we prove an exponential lower bound for all model-free approaches, including OLIVE, which when combined with our algorithmic results demonstrates exponential separation between model-based and model-free RL in some rich-observation settings.

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Christoph Dann, Nan Jiang, Akshay Krishnamurthy, Alekh Agarwal, John Langford, Robert E. Schapire

We study the computational tractability of PAC reinforcement learning with rich observations. We present new provably sample-efficient algorithms for environments with deterministic hidden state dynamics and stochastic rich observations. These methods operate in an oracle model of computation -- accessing policy and value function classes exclusively through standard optimization primitives -- and therefore represent computationally efficient alternatives to prior algorithms that require enumeration. With stochastic hidden state dynamics, we prove that the only known sample-efficient algorithm, OLIVE, cannot be implemented in the oracle model. We also present several examples that illustrate fundamental challenges of tractable PAC reinforcement learning in such general settings.

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Alekh Agarwal, Alina Beygelzimer, Miroslav Dudík, John Langford, Hanna Wallach

We present a systematic approach for achieving fairness in a binary classification setting. While we focus on two well-known quantitative definitions of fairness, our approach encompasses many other previously studied definitions as special cases. The key idea is to reduce fair classification to a sequence of cost-sensitive classification problems, whose solutions yield a randomized classifier with the lowest (empirical) error subject to the desired constraints. We introduce two reductions that work for any representation of the cost-sensitive classifier and compare favorably to prior baselines on a variety of data sets, while overcoming several of their disadvantages.

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Hoang M. Le, Nan Jiang, Alekh Agarwal, Miroslav Dudík, Yisong Yue, Hal Daumé III

We study how to effectively leverage expert feedback to learn sequential decision-making policies. We focus on problems with sparse rewards and long time horizons, which typically pose significant challenges in reinforcement learning. We propose an algorithmic framework, called hierarchical guidance, that leverages the hierarchical structure of the underlying problem to integrate different modes of expert interaction. Our framework can incorporate different combinations of imitation learning (IL) and reinforcement learning (RL) at different levels, leading to dramatic reductions in both expert effort and cost of exploration. Using long-horizon benchmarks, including Montezuma's Revenge, we demonstrate that our approach can learn significantly faster than hierarchical RL, and be significantly more label-efficient than standard IL. We also theoretically analyze labeling cost for certain instantiations of our framework.

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Haipeng Luo, Chen-Yu Wei, Alekh Agarwal, John Langford

Most contextual bandit algorithms minimize regret against the best fixed policy, a questionable benchmark for non-stationary environments that are ubiquitous in applications. In this work, we develop several efficient contextual bandit algorithms for non-stationary environments by equipping existing methods for i.i.d. problems with sophisticated statistical tests so as to dynamically adapt to a change in distribution. We analyze various standard notions of regret suited to non-stationary environments for these algorithms, including interval regret, switching regret, and dynamic regret. When competing with the best policy at each time, one of our algorithms achieves regret $\mathcal{O}(\sqrt{ST})$ if there are $T$ rounds with $S$ stationary periods, or more generally $\mathcal{O}(\Delta^{1/3}T^{2/3})$ where $\Delta$ is some non-stationarity measure. These results almost match the optimal guarantees achieved by an inefficient baseline that is a variant of the classic Exp4 algorithm. The dynamic regret result is also the first one for efficient and fully adversarial contextual bandit. Furthermore, while the results above require tuning a parameter based on the unknown quantity $S$ or $\Delta$, we also develop a parameter free algorithm achieving regret $\min\{S^{1/4}T^{3/4}, \Delta^{1/5}T^{4/5}\}$. This improves and generalizes the best existing result $\Delta^{0.18}T^{0.82}$ by Karnin and Anava (2016) which only holds for the two-armed bandit problem.

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Alberto Bietti, Alekh Agarwal, John Langford

Contextual bandit algorithms are essential for solving many real-world interactive machine learning problems. Despite multiple recent successes on statistically and computationally efficient methods, the practical behavior of these algorithms is still poorly understood. We leverage the availability of large numbers of supervised learning datasets to compare and empirically optimize contextual bandit algorithms, focusing on practical methods that learn by relying on optimization oracles from supervised learning. We find that a recent method (Foster et al., 2018) using optimism under uncertainty works the best overall. A surprisingly close second is a simple greedy baseline that only explores implicitly through the diversity of contexts, followed by a variant of Online Cover (Agarwal et al., 2014) which tends to be more conservative but robust to problem specification by design. Along the way, we also evaluate and improve several internal components of contextual bandit algorithm design. Overall, this is a thorough study and review of contextual bandit methodology.

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Dylan J. Foster, Alekh Agarwal, Miroslav Dudík, Haipeng Luo, Robert E. Schapire

A major challenge in contextual bandits is to design general-purpose algorithms that are both practically useful and theoretically well-founded. We present a new technique that has the empirical and computational advantages of realizability-based approaches combined with the flexibility of agnostic methods. Our algorithms leverage the availability of a regression oracle for the value-function class, a more realistic and reasonable oracle than the classification oracles over policies typically assumed by agnostic methods. Our approach generalizes both UCB and LinUCB to far more expressive possible model classes and achieves low regret under certain distributional assumptions. In an extensive empirical evaluation, compared to both realizability-based and agnostic baselines, we find that our approach typically gives comparable or superior results.

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Akshay Krishnamurthy, Alekh Agarwal, Tzu-Kuo Huang, Hal Daume III, John Langford

We design an active learning algorithm for cost-sensitive multiclass classification: problems where different errors have different costs. Our algorithm, COAL, makes predictions by regressing to each label's cost and predicting the smallest. On a new example, it uses a set of regressors that perform well on past data to estimate possible costs for each label. It queries only the labels that could be the best, ignoring the sure losers. We prove COAL can be efficiently implemented for any regression family that admits squared loss optimization; it also enjoys strong guarantees with respect to predictive performance and labeling effort. We empirically compare COAL to passive learning and several active learning baselines, showing significant improvements in labeling effort and test cost on real-world datasets.

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