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Abstract:Statistical inference with finite-sample validity for the value function of a given policy in Markov decision processes (MDPs) is crucial for ensuring the reliability of reinforcement learning. Temporal Difference (TD) learning, arguably the most widely used algorithm for policy evaluation, serves as a natural framework for this purpose.In this paper, we study the consistency properties of TD learning with Polyak-Ruppert averaging and linear function approximation, and obtain three significant improvements over existing results. First, we derive a novel sharp high-dimensional probability convergence guarantee that depends explicitly on the asymptotic variance and holds under weak conditions. We further establish refined high-dimensional Berry-Esseen bounds over the class of convex sets that guarantee faster rates than those in the literature. Finally, we propose a plug-in estimator for the asymptotic covariance matrix, designed for efficient online computation. These results enable the construction of confidence regions and simultaneous confidence intervals for the linear parameters of the value function, with guaranteed finite-sample coverage. We demonstrate the applicability of our theoretical findings through numerical experiments.

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Abstract:Diffusion models have emerged as a powerful tool for image generation and denoising. Typically, generative models learn a trajectory between the starting noise distribution and the target data distribution. Recently Liu et al. (2023b) designed a novel alternative generative model Rectified Flow (RF), which aims to learn straight flow trajectories from noise to data using a sequence of convex optimization problems with close ties to optimal transport. If the trajectory is curved, one must use many Euler discretization steps or novel strategies, such as exponential integrators, to achieve a satisfactory generation quality. In contrast, RF has been shown to theoretically straighten the trajectory through successive rectifications, reducing the number of function evaluations (NFEs) while sampling. It has also been shown empirically that RF may improve the straightness in two rectifications if one can solve the underlying optimization problem within a sufficiently small error. In this paper, we make two key theoretical contributions: 1) we provide the first theoretical analysis of the Wasserstein distance between the sampling distribution of RF and the target distribution. Our error rate is characterized by the number of discretization steps and a new formulation of straightness stronger than that in the original work. 2) In line with the previous empirical findings, we show that, for a rectified flow from a Gaussian to a mixture of two Gaussians, two rectifications are sufficient to achieve a straight flow. Additionally, we also present empirical results on both simulated and real datasets to validate our theoretical findings.

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Abstract:The softmax gating function is arguably the most popular choice in mixture of experts modeling. Despite its widespread use in practice, softmax gating may lead to unnecessary competition among experts, potentially causing the undesirable phenomenon of representation collapse due to its inherent structure. In response, the sigmoid gating function has been recently proposed as an alternative and has been demonstrated empirically to achieve superior performance. However, a rigorous examination of the sigmoid gating function is lacking in current literature. In this paper, we verify theoretically that sigmoid gating, in fact, enjoys a higher sample efficiency than softmax gating for the statistical task of expert estimation. Towards that goal, we consider a regression framework in which the unknown regression function is modeled as a mixture of experts, and study the rates of convergence of the least squares estimator in the over-specified case in which the number of experts fitted is larger than the true value. We show that two gating regimes naturally arise and, in each of them, we formulate identifiability conditions for the expert functions and derive the corresponding convergence rates. In both cases, we find that experts formulated as feed-forward networks with commonly used activation such as $\mathrm{ReLU}$ and $\mathrm{GELU}$ enjoy faster convergence rates under sigmoid gating than softmax gating. Furthermore, given the same choice of experts, we demonstrate that the sigmoid gating function requires a smaller sample size than its softmax counterpart to attain the same error of expert estimation and, therefore, is more sample efficient.

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Abstract:Mixture of experts (MoE) model is a statistical machine learning design that aggregates multiple expert networks using a softmax gating function in order to form a more intricate and expressive model. Despite being commonly used in several applications owing to their scalability, the mathematical and statistical properties of MoE models are complex and difficult to analyze. As a result, previous theoretical works have primarily focused on probabilistic MoE models by imposing the impractical assumption that the data are generated from a Gaussian MoE model. In this work, we investigate the performance of the least squares estimators (LSE) under a deterministic MoE model where the data are sampled according to a regression model, a setting that has remained largely unexplored. We establish a condition called strong identifiability to characterize the convergence behavior of various types of expert functions. We demonstrate that the rates for estimating strongly identifiable experts, namely the widely used feed forward networks with activation functions $\mathrm{sigmoid}(\cdot)$ and $\tanh(\cdot)$, are substantially faster than those of polynomial experts, which we show to exhibit a surprising slow estimation rate. Our findings have important practical implications for expert selection.

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Abstract:This paper is concerned with the problem of policy evaluation with linear function approximation in discounted infinite horizon Markov decision processes. We investigate the sample complexities required to guarantee a predefined estimation error of the best linear coefficients for two widely-used policy evaluation algorithms: the temporal difference (TD) learning algorithm and the two-timescale linear TD with gradient correction (TDC) algorithm. In both the on-policy setting, where observations are generated from the target policy, and the off-policy setting, where samples are drawn from a behavior policy potentially different from the target policy, we establish the first sample complexity bound with high-probability convergence guarantee that attains the optimal dependence on the tolerance level. We also exhihit an explicit dependence on problem-related quantities, and show in the on-policy setting that our upper bound matches the minimax lower bound on crucial problem parameters, including the choice of the feature maps and the problem dimension.

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Abstract:Recent empirical and theoretical analyses of several commonly used prediction procedures reveal a peculiar risk behavior in high dimensions, referred to as double/multiple descent, in which the asymptotic risk is a non-monotonic function of the limiting aspect ratio of the number of features or parameters to the sample size. To mitigate this undesirable behavior, we develop a general framework for risk monotonization based on cross-validation that takes as input a generic prediction procedure and returns a modified procedure whose out-of-sample prediction risk is, asymptotically, monotonic in the limiting aspect ratio. As part of our framework, we propose two data-driven methodologies, namely zero- and one-step, that are akin to bagging and boosting, respectively, and show that, under very mild assumptions, they provably achieve monotonic asymptotic risk behavior. Our results are applicable to a broad variety of prediction procedures and loss functions, and do not require a well-specified (parametric) model. We exemplify our framework with concrete analyses of the minimum $\ell_2$, $\ell_1$-norm least squares prediction procedures. As one of the ingredients in our analysis, we also derive novel additive and multiplicative forms of oracle risk inequalities for split cross-validation that are of independent interest.

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Abstract:Sequential changepoint detection is a classical problem with a variety of applications. However, the majority of prior work has been parametric, for example, focusing on exponential families. We develop a fundamentally new and general framework for changepoint detection when the pre- and post-change distributions are nonparametrically specified (and thus composite). Our procedures come with clean, nonasymptotic bounds on the average run length (frequency of false alarms). In certain nonparametric cases (like sub-Gaussian or sub-exponential), we also provide near-optimal bounds on the detection delay following a changepoint. The primary technical tool that we introduce is called an e-detector, which is composed of sums of e-processes -- a fundamental generalization of nonnegative supermartingales -- that are started at consecutive times. We first introduce simple Shiryaev-Roberts and CUSUM-style e-detectors, and then show how to design their mixtures in order to achieve both statistical and computational efficiency. We demonstrate their efficacy in detecting changes in the mean of a bounded random variable without any i.i.d. assumptions, with an application to tracking the performance of a sports team over multiple seasons.

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Abstract:The Bradley-Terry-Luce (BTL) model is a popular statistical approach for estimating the global ranking of a collection of items of interest using pairwise comparisons. To ensure accurate ranking, it is essential to obtain precise estimates of the model parameters in the $\ell_{\infty}$-loss. The difficulty of this task depends crucially on the topology of the pairwise comparison graph over the given items. However, beyond very few well-studied cases, such as the complete and Erd\"os-R\'enyi comparison graphs, little is known about the performance of the maximum likelihood estimator (MLE) of the BTL model parameters in the $\ell_{\infty}$-loss under more general graph topologies. In this paper, we derive novel, general upper bounds on the $\ell_{\infty}$ estimation error of the BTL MLE that depend explicitly on the algebraic connectivity of the comparison graph, the maximal performance gap across items and the sample complexity. We demonstrate that the derived bounds perform well and in some cases are sharper compared to known results obtained using different loss functions and more restricted assumptions and graph topologies. We further provide minimax lower bounds under $\ell_{\infty}$-error that nearly match the upper bounds over a class of sufficiently regular graph topologies. Finally, we study the implications of our bounds for efficient tournament design. We illustrate and discuss our findings through various examples and simulations.

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Abstract:We study piece-wise constant signals corrupted by additive Gaussian noise over a $d$-dimensional lattice. Data of this form naturally arise in a host of applications, and the tasks of signal detection or testing, de-noising and estimation have been studied extensively in the statistical and signal processing literature. In this paper we consider instead the problem of partition recovery, i.e.~of estimating the partition of the lattice induced by the constancy regions of the unknown signal, using the computationally-efficient dyadic classification and regression tree (DCART) methodology proposed by \citep{donoho1997cart}. We prove that, under appropriate regularity conditions on the shape of the partition elements, a DCART-based procedure consistently estimates the underlying partition at a rate of order $\sigma^2 k^* \log (N)/\kappa^2$, where $k^*$ is the minimal number of rectangular sub-graphs obtained using recursive dyadic partitions supporting the signal partition, $\sigma^2$ is the noise variance, $\kappa$ is the minimal magnitude of the signal difference among contiguous elements of the partition and $N$ is the size of the lattice. Furthermore, under stronger assumptions, our method attains a sharper estimation error of order $\sigma^2\log(N)/\kappa^2$, independent of $ k^*$, which we show to be minimax rate optimal. Our theoretical guarantees further extend to the partition estimator based on the optimal regression tree estimator (ORT) of \cite{chatterjee2019adaptive} and to the one obtained through an NP-hard exhaustive search method. We corroborate our theoretical findings and the effectiveness of DCART for partition recovery in simulations.

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Abstract:We study the problem of online network change point detection. In this setting, a collection of independent Bernoulli networks is collected sequentially, and the underlying distributions change when a change point occurs. The goal is to detect the change point as quickly as possible, if it exists, subject to a constraint on the number or probability of false alarms. In this paper, on the detection delay, we establish a minimax lower bound and two upper bounds based on NP-hard algorithms and polynomial-time algorithms, i.e., \[ \mbox{detection delay} \begin{cases} \gtrsim \log(1/\alpha) \frac{\max\{r^2/n, \, 1\}}{\kappa_0^2 n \rho},\\ \lesssim \log(\Delta/\alpha) \frac{\max\{r^2/n, \, \log(r)\}}{\kappa_0^2 n \rho}, & \mbox{with NP-hard algorithms},\\ \lesssim \log(\Delta/\alpha) \frac{r}{\kappa_0^2 n \rho}, & \mbox{with polynomial-time algorithms}, \end{cases} \] where $\kappa_0, n, \rho, r$ and $\alpha$ are the normalised jump size, network size, entrywise sparsity, rank sparsity and the overall Type-I error upper bound. All the model parameters are allowed to vary as $\Delta$, the location of the change point, diverges. The polynomial-time algorithms are novel procedures that we propose in this paper, designed for quick detection under two different forms of Type-I error control. The first is based on controlling the overall probability of a false alarm when there are no change points, and the second is based on specifying a lower bound on the expected time of the first false alarm. Extensive experiments show that, under different scenarios and the aforementioned forms of Type-I error control, our proposed approaches outperform state-of-the-art methods.

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