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Abstract:We study the split Conformal Prediction method when applied to Markovian data. We quantify the gap in terms of coverage induced by the correlations in the data (compared to exchangeable data). This gap strongly depends on the mixing properties of the underlying Markov chain, and we prove that it typically scales as $\sqrt{t_\mathrm{mix}\ln(n)/n}$ (where $t_\mathrm{mix}$ is the mixing time of the chain). We also derive upper bounds on the impact of the correlations on the size of the prediction set. Finally we present $K$-split CP, a method that consists in thinning the calibration dataset and that adapts to the mixing properties of the chain. Its coverage gap is reduced to $t_\mathrm{mix}/(n\ln(n))$ without really affecting the size of the prediction set. We finally test our algorithms on synthetic and real-world datasets.

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Abstract:We study the problem of exploration in Reinforcement Learning and present a novel model-free solution. We adopt an information-theoretical viewpoint and start from the instance-specific lower bound of the number of samples that have to be collected to identify a nearly-optimal policy. Deriving this lower bound along with the optimal exploration strategy entails solving an intricate optimization problem and requires a model of the system. In turn, most existing sample optimal exploration algorithms rely on estimating the model. We derive an approximation of the instance-specific lower bound that only involves quantities that can be inferred using model-free approaches. Leveraging this approximation, we devise an ensemble-based model-free exploration strategy applicable to both tabular and continuous Markov decision processes. Numerical results demonstrate that our strategy is able to identify efficient policies faster than state-of-the-art exploration approaches

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Abstract:We study contextual bandits with low-rank structure where, in each round, if the (context, arm) pair $(i,j)\in [m]\times [n]$ is selected, the learner observes a noisy sample of the $(i,j)$-th entry of an unknown low-rank reward matrix. Successive contexts are generated randomly in an i.i.d. manner and are revealed to the learner. For such bandits, we present efficient algorithms for policy evaluation, best policy identification and regret minimization. For policy evaluation and best policy identification, we show that our algorithms are nearly minimax optimal. For instance, the number of samples required to return an $\varepsilon$-optimal policy with probability at least $1-\delta$ typically scales as ${m+n\over \varepsilon^2}\log(1/\delta)$. Our regret minimization algorithm enjoys minimax guarantees scaling as $r^{7/4}(m+n)^{3/4}\sqrt{T}$, which improves over existing algorithms. All the proposed algorithms consist of two phases: they first leverage spectral methods to estimate the left and right singular subspaces of the low-rank reward matrix. We show that these estimates enjoy tight error guarantees in the two-to-infinity norm. This in turn allows us to reformulate our problems as a misspecified linear bandit problem with dimension roughly $r(m+n)$ and misspecification controlled by the subspace recovery error, as well as to design the second phase of our algorithms efficiently.

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Abstract:We consider the problem of identifying the best arm in stochastic Multi-Armed Bandits (MABs) using a fixed sampling budget. Characterizing the minimal instance-specific error probability for this problem constitutes one of the important remaining open problems in MABs. When arms are selected using a static sampling strategy, the error probability decays exponentially with the number of samples at a rate that can be explicitly derived via Large Deviation techniques. Analyzing the performance of algorithms with adaptive sampling strategies is however much more challenging. In this paper, we establish a connection between the Large Deviation Principle (LDP) satisfied by the empirical proportions of arm draws and that satisfied by the empirical arm rewards. This connection holds for any adaptive algorithm, and is leveraged (i) to improve error probability upper bounds of some existing algorithms, such as the celebrated \sr (Successive Rejects) algorithm \citep{audibert2010best}, and (ii) to devise and analyze new algorithms. In particular, we present \sred (Continuous Rejects), a truly adaptive algorithm that can reject arms in {\it any} round based on the observed empirical gaps between the rewards of various arms. Applying our Large Deviation results, we prove that \sred enjoys better performance guarantees than existing algorithms, including \sr. Extensive numerical experiments confirm this observation.

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Abstract:We study matrix estimation problems arising in reinforcement learning (RL) with low-rank structure. In low-rank bandits, the matrix to be recovered specifies the expected arm rewards, and for low-rank Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), it may for example characterize the transition kernel of the MDP. In both cases, each entry of the matrix carries important information, and we seek estimation methods with low entry-wise error. Importantly, these methods further need to accommodate for inherent correlations in the available data (e.g. for MDPs, the data consists of system trajectories). We investigate the performance of simple spectral-based matrix estimation approaches: we show that they efficiently recover the singular subspaces of the matrix and exhibit nearly-minimal entry-wise error. These new results on low-rank matrix estimation make it possible to devise reinforcement learning algorithms that fully exploit the underlying low-rank structure. We provide two examples of such algorithms: a regret minimization algorithm for low-rank bandit problems, and a best policy identification algorithm for reward-free RL in low-rank MDPs. Both algorithms yield state-of-the-art performance guarantees.

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Abstract:We consider the problem of adaptive Model Predictive Control (MPC) for uncertain linear-systems with additive disturbances and with state and input constraints. We present STT-MPC (Self-Tuning Tube-based Model Predictive Control), an online algorithm that combines the certainty-equivalence principle and polytopic tubes. Specifically, at any given step, STT-MPC infers the system dynamics using the Least Squares Estimator (LSE), and applies a controller obtained by solving an MPC problem using these estimates. The use of polytopic tubes is so that, despite the uncertainties, state and input constraints are satisfied, and recursive-feasibility and asymptotic stability hold. In this work, we analyze the regret of the algorithm, when compared to an oracle algorithm initially aware of the system dynamics. We establish that the expected regret of STT-MPC does not exceed $O(T^{1/2 + \epsilon})$, where $\epsilon \in (0,1)$ is a design parameter tuning the persistent excitation component of the algorithm. Our result relies on a recently proposed exponential decay of sensitivity property and, to the best of our knowledge, is the first of its kind in this setting. We illustrate the performance of our algorithm using a simple numerical example.

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Abstract:We study the problem of best-arm identification with fixed budget in stochastic two-arm bandits with Bernoulli rewards. We prove that there is no algorithm that (i) performs as well as the algorithm sampling each arm equally (this algorithm is referred to as the {\it uniform sampling} algorithm) on all instances, and that (ii) strictly outperforms this algorithm on at least one instance. In short, there is no algorithm better than the uniform sampling algorithm. Towards this result, we first introduce the natural class of {\it consistent} and {\it stable} algorithms, and show that any algorithm that performs as well as the uniform sampling algorithm on all instances belongs to this class. The proof then proceeds by deriving a lower bound on the error rate satisfied by any consistent and stable algorithm, and by showing that the uniform sampling algorithm matches this lower bound. Our results provide a solution to the two open problems presented in \cite{qin2022open}.

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Abstract:We consider the problem of recovering hidden communities in the Labeled Stochastic Block Model (LSBM) with a finite number of clusters, where cluster sizes grow linearly with the total number $n$ of items. In the LSBM, a label is (independently) observed for each pair of items. Our objective is to devise an efficient algorithm that recovers clusters using the observed labels. To this end, we revisit instance-specific lower bounds on the expected number of misclassified items satisfied by any clustering algorithm. We present Instance-Adaptive Clustering (IAC), the first algorithm whose performance matches these lower bounds both in expectation and with high probability. IAC consists of a one-time spectral clustering algorithm followed by an iterative likelihood-based cluster assignment improvement. This approach is based on the instance-specific lower bound and does not require any model parameters, including the number of clusters. By performing the spectral clustering only once, IAC maintains an overall computational complexity of $\mathcal{O}(n \text{polylog}(n))$. We illustrate the effectiveness of our approach through numerical experiments.

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Abstract:Reinforcement Learning aims at identifying and evaluating efficient control policies from data. In many real-world applications, the learner is not allowed to experiment and cannot gather data in an online manner (this is the case when experimenting is expensive, risky or unethical). For such applications, the reward of a given policy (the target policy) must be estimated using historical data gathered under a different policy (the behavior policy). Most methods for this learning task, referred to as Off-Policy Evaluation (OPE), do not come with accuracy and certainty guarantees. We present a novel OPE method based on Conformal Prediction that outputs an interval containing the true reward of the target policy with a prescribed level of certainty. The main challenge in OPE stems from the distribution shift due to the discrepancies between the target and the behavior policies. We propose and empirically evaluate different ways to deal with this shift. Some of these methods yield conformalized intervals with reduced length compared to existing approaches, while maintaining the same certainty level.

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Abstract:We investigate the sample complexity of learning the optimal arm for multi-task bandit problems. Arms consist of two components: one that is shared across tasks (that we call representation) and one that is task-specific (that we call predictor). The objective is to learn the optimal (representation, predictor)-pair for each task, under the assumption that the optimal representation is common to all tasks. Within this framework, efficient learning algorithms should transfer knowledge across tasks. We consider the best-arm identification problem for a fixed confidence, where, in each round, the learner actively selects both a task, and an arm, and observes the corresponding reward. We derive instance-specific sample complexity lower bounds satisfied by any $(\delta_G,\delta_H)$-PAC algorithm (such an algorithm identifies the best representation with probability at least $1-\delta_G$, and the best predictor for a task with probability at least $1-\delta_H$). We devise an algorithm OSRL-SC whose sample complexity approaches the lower bound, and scales at most as $H(G\log(1/\delta_G)+ X\log(1/\delta_H))$, with $X,G,H$ being, respectively, the number of tasks, representations and predictors. By comparison, this scaling is significantly better than the classical best-arm identification algorithm that scales as $HGX\log(1/\delta)$.

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