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Abstract:We study the problem of incentive-compatible online learning with bandit feedback. In this class of problems, the experts are self-interested agents who might misrepresent their preferences with the goal of being selected most often. The goal is to devise algorithms which are simultaneously incentive-compatible, that is the experts are incentivised to report their true preferences, and have no regret with respect to the preferences of the best fixed expert in hindsight. \citet{freeman2020no} propose an algorithm in the full information setting with optimal $O(\sqrt{T \log(K)})$ regret and $O(T^{2/3}(K\log(K))^{1/3})$ regret in the bandit setting. In this work we propose the first incentive-compatible algorithms that enjoy $O(\sqrt{KT})$ regret bounds. We further demonstrate how simple loss-biasing allows the algorithm proposed in Freeman et al. 2020 to enjoy $\tilde O(\sqrt{KT})$ regret. As a byproduct of our approach we obtain the first bandit algorithm with nearly optimal regret bounds in the adversarial setting which works entirely on the observed loss sequence without the need for importance-weighted estimators. Finally, we provide an incentive-compatible algorithm that enjoys asymptotically optimal best-of-both-worlds regret guarantees, i.e., logarithmic regret in the stochastic regime as well as worst-case $O(\sqrt{KT})$ regret.

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Abstract:We consider the problem of designing contextual bandit algorithms in the ``cross-learning'' setting of Balseiro et al., where the learner observes the loss for the action they play in all possible contexts, not just the context of the current round. We specifically consider the setting where losses are chosen adversarially and contexts are sampled i.i.d. from an unknown distribution. In this setting, we resolve an open problem of Balseiro et al. by providing an efficient algorithm with a nearly tight (up to logarithmic factors) regret bound of $\widetilde{O}(\sqrt{TK})$, independent of the number of contexts. As a consequence, we obtain the first nearly tight regret bounds for the problems of learning to bid in first-price auctions (under unknown value distributions) and sleeping bandits with a stochastic action set. At the core of our algorithm is a novel technique for coordinating the execution of a learning algorithm over multiple epochs in such a way to remove correlations between estimation of the unknown distribution and the actions played by the algorithm. This technique may be of independent interest for other learning problems involving estimation of an unknown context distribution.

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Abstract:We study online reinforcement learning in linear Markov decision processes with adversarial losses and bandit feedback, without prior knowledge on transitions or access to simulators. We introduce two algorithms that achieve improved regret performance compared to existing approaches. The first algorithm, although computationally inefficient, ensures a regret of $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}\left(\sqrt{K}\right)$, where $K$ is the number of episodes. This is the first result with the optimal $K$ dependence in the considered setting. The second algorithm, which is based on the policy optimization framework, guarantees a regret of $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}\left(K^{\frac{3}{4}} \right)$ and is computationally efficient. Both our results significantly improve over the state-of-the-art: a computationally inefficient algorithm by Kong et al. [2023] with $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}\left(K^{\frac{4}{5}}+poly\left(\frac{1}{\lambda_{\min}}\right) \right)$ regret, for some problem-dependent constant $\lambda_{\min}$ that can be arbitrarily close to zero, and a computationally efficient algorithm by Sherman et al. [2023b] with $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}\left(K^{\frac{6}{7}} \right)$ regret.

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Abstract:We consider the adversarial linear contextual bandit problem, where the loss vectors are selected fully adversarially and the per-round action set (i.e. the context) is drawn from a fixed distribution. Existing methods for this problem either require access to a simulator to generate free i.i.d. contexts, achieve a sub-optimal regret no better than $\widetilde{O}(T^{\frac{5}{6}})$, or are computationally inefficient. We greatly improve these results by achieving a regret of $\widetilde{O}(\sqrt{T})$ without a simulator, while maintaining computational efficiency when the action set in each round is small. In the special case of sleeping bandits with adversarial loss and stochastic arm availability, our result answers affirmatively the open question by Saha et al. [2020] on whether there exists a polynomial-time algorithm with $poly(d)\sqrt{T}$ regret. Our approach naturally handles the case where the loss is linear up to an additive misspecification error, and our regret shows near-optimal dependence on the magnitude of the error.

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Abstract:We propose a new best-of-both-worlds algorithm for bandits with variably delayed feedback. The algorithm improves on prior work by Masoudian et al. [2022] by eliminating the need in prior knowledge of the maximal delay $d_{\mathrm{max}}$ and providing tighter regret bounds in both regimes. The algorithm and its regret bounds are based on counts of outstanding observations (a quantity that is observed at action time) rather than delays or the maximal delay (quantities that are only observed when feedback arrives). One major contribution is a novel control of distribution drift, which is based on biased loss estimators and skipping of observations with excessively large delays. Another major contribution is demonstrating that the complexity of best-of-both-worlds bandits with delayed feedback is characterized by the cumulative count of outstanding observations after skipping of observations with excessively large delays, rather than the delays or the maximal delay.

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Abstract:Best-of-both-worlds algorithms for online learning which achieve near-optimal regret in both the adversarial and the stochastic regimes have received growing attention recently. Existing techniques often require careful adaptation to every new problem setup, including specialised potentials and careful tuning of algorithm parameters. Yet, in domains such as linear bandits, it is still unknown if there exists an algorithm that can simultaneously obtain $O(\log(T))$ regret in the stochastic regime and $\tilde{O}(\sqrt{T})$ regret in the adversarial regime. In this work, we resolve this question positively and present a general reduction from best of both worlds to a wide family of follow-the-regularized-leader (FTRL) and online-mirror-descent (OMD) algorithms. We showcase the capability of this reduction by transforming existing algorithms that are only known to achieve worst-case guarantees into new algorithms with best-of-both-worlds guarantees in contextual bandits, graph bandits and tabular Markov decision processes.

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Abstract:Policy optimization methods are popular reinforcement learning algorithms in practice. Recent works have built theoretical foundation for them by proving $\sqrt{T}$ regret bounds even when the losses are adversarial. Such bounds are tight in the worst case but often overly pessimistic. In this work, we show that in tabular Markov decision processes (MDPs), by properly designing the regularizer, the exploration bonus and the learning rates, one can achieve a more favorable polylog$(T)$ regret when the losses are stochastic, without sacrificing the worst-case guarantee in the adversarial regime. To our knowledge, this is also the first time a gap-dependent polylog$(T)$ regret bound is shown for policy optimization. Specifically, we achieve this by leveraging a Tsallis entropy or a Shannon entropy regularizer in the policy update. Then we show that under known transitions, we can further obtain a first-order regret bound in the adversarial regime by leveraging the log-barrier regularizer.

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Abstract:We consider learning in an adversarial Markov Decision Process (MDP) where the loss functions can change arbitrarily over $K$ episodes and the state space can be arbitrarily large. We assume that the Q-function of any policy is linear in some known features, that is, a linear function approximation exists. The best existing regret upper bound for this setting (Luo et al., 2021) is of order $\tilde{\mathcal O}(K^{2/3})$ (omitting all other dependencies), given access to a simulator. This paper provides two algorithms that improve the regret to $\tilde{\mathcal O}(\sqrt K)$ in the same setting. Our first algorithm makes use of a refined analysis of the Follow-the-Regularized-Leader (FTRL) algorithm with the log-barrier regularizer. This analysis allows the loss estimators to be arbitrarily negative and might be of independent interest. Our second algorithm develops a magnitude-reduced loss estimator, further removing the polynomial dependency on the number of actions in the first algorithm and leading to the optimal regret bound (up to logarithmic terms and dependency on the horizon). Moreover, we also extend the first algorithm to simulator-free linear MDPs, which achieves $\tilde{\mathcal O}(K^{8/9})$ regret and greatly improves over the best existing bound $\tilde{\mathcal O}(K^{14/15})$. This algorithm relies on a better alternative to the Matrix Geometric Resampling procedure by Neu & Olkhovskaya (2020), which could again be of independent interest.

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Abstract:We study reinforcement learning in stochastic path (SP) problems. The goal in these problems is to maximize the expected sum of rewards until the agent reaches a terminal state. We provide the first regret guarantees in this general problem by analyzing a simple optimistic algorithm. Our regret bound matches the best known results for the well-studied special case of stochastic shortest path (SSP) with all non-positive rewards. For SSP, we present an adaptation procedure for the case when the scale of rewards $B_\star$ is unknown. We show that there is no price for adaptation, and our regret bound matches that with a known $B_\star$. We also provide a scale adaptation procedure for the special case of stochastic longest paths (SLP) where all rewards are non-negative. However, unlike in SSP, we show through a lower bound that there is an unavoidable price for adaptation.

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Abstract:Thompson Sampling is one of the most effective methods for contextual bandits and has been generalized to posterior sampling for certain MDP settings. However, existing posterior sampling methods for reinforcement learning are limited by being model-based or lack worst-case theoretical guarantees beyond linear MDPs. This paper proposes a new model-free formulation of posterior sampling that applies to more general episodic reinforcement learning problems with theoretical guarantees. We introduce novel proof techniques to show that under suitable conditions, the worst-case regret of our posterior sampling method matches the best known results of optimization based methods. In the linear MDP setting with dimension, the regret of our algorithm scales linearly with the dimension as compared to a quadratic dependence of the existing posterior sampling-based exploration algorithms.

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