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Xin Guo, Lihong Li, Sareh Nabi, Rabih Salhab, Junzi Zhang

Motivated by bid recommendation in online ad auctions, this paper considers a general class of multi-level and multi-agent games, with two major characteristics: one is a large number of anonymous agents, and the other is the intricate interplay between competition and cooperation. To model such complex systems, we propose a novel and tractable bi-objective optimization formulation with mean-field approximation, called MESOB (Mean-field Equilibria & Social Optimality Balancing), as well as an associated occupation measure optimization (OMO) method called MESOB-OMO to solve it. MESOB-OMO enables obtaining approximately Pareto efficient solutions in terms of the dual objectives of competition and cooperation in MESOB, and in particular allows for Nash equilibrium selection and social equalization in an asymptotic manner. We apply MESOB-OMO to bid recommendation in a simulated pay-per-click ad auction. Experiments demonstrate its efficacy in balancing the interests of different parties and in handling the competitive nature of bidders, as well as its advantages over baselines that only consider either the competitive or the cooperative aspects.

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Riashat Islam, Samarth Sinha, Homanga Bharadhwaj, Samin Yeasar Arnob, Zhuoran Yang, Animesh Garg, Zhaoran Wang, Lihong Li, Doina Precup

Learning policies from fixed offline datasets is a key challenge to scale up reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms towards practical applications. This is often because off-policy RL algorithms suffer from distributional shift, due to mismatch between dataset and the target policy, leading to high variance and over-estimation of value functions. In this work, we propose variance regularization for offline RL algorithms, using stationary distribution corrections. We show that by using Fenchel duality, we can avoid double sampling issues for computing the gradient of the variance regularizer. The proposed algorithm for offline variance regularization (OVAR) can be used to augment any existing offline policy optimization algorithms. We show that the regularizer leads to a lower bound to the offline policy optimization objective, which can help avoid over-estimation errors, and explains the benefits of our approach across a range of continuous control domains when compared to existing state-of-the-art algorithms.

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Ziyang Tang, Yiheng Duan, Stephanie Zhang, Lihong Li

Randomized experiments (a.k.a. A/B tests) are a powerful tool for estimating treatment effects, to inform decisions making in business, healthcare and other applications. In many problems, the treatment has a lasting effect that evolves over time. A limitation with randomized experiments is that they do not easily extend to measure long-term effects, since running long experiments is time-consuming and expensive. In this paper, we take a reinforcement learning (RL) approach that estimates the average reward in a Markov process. Motivated by real-world scenarios where the observed state transition is nonstationary, we develop a new algorithm for a class of nonstationary problems, and demonstrate promising results in two synthetic datasets and one online store dataset.

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Xiaoyu Chen, Jiachen Hu, Chi Jin, Lihong Li, Liwei Wang

Reinforcement learning encounters many challenges when applied directly in the real world. Sim-to-real transfer is widely used to transfer the knowledge learned from simulation to the real world. Domain randomization -- one of the most popular algorithms for sim-to-real transfer -- has been demonstrated to be effective in various tasks in robotics and autonomous driving. Despite its empirical successes, theoretical understanding on why this simple algorithm works is limited. In this paper, we propose a theoretical framework for sim-to-real transfers, in which the simulator is modeled as a set of MDPs with tunable parameters (corresponding to unknown physical parameters such as friction). We provide sharp bounds on the sim-to-real gap -- the difference between the value of policy returned by domain randomization and the value of an optimal policy for the real world. We prove that sim-to-real transfer can succeed under mild conditions without any real-world training samples. Our theory also highlights the importance of using memory (i.e., history-dependent policies) in domain randomization. Our proof is based on novel techniques that reduce the problem of bounding the sim-to-real gap to the problem of designing efficient learning algorithms for infinite-horizon MDPs, which we believe are of independent interest.

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Yi Liu, Lihong Li

The rich body of Bandit literature not only offers a diverse toolbox of algorithms, but also makes it hard for a practitioner to find the right solution to solve the problem at hand. Typical textbooks on Bandits focus on designing and analyzing algorithms, and surveys on applications often present a list of individual applications. While these are valuable resources, there exists a gap in mapping applications to appropriate Bandit algorithms. In this paper, we aim to reduce this gap with a structured map of Bandits to help practitioners navigate to find relevant and practical Bandit algorithms. Instead of providing a comprehensive overview, we focus on a small number of key decision points related to reward, action, and features, which often affect how Bandit algorithms are chosen in practice.

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Chenjun Xiao, Yifan Wu, Tor Lattimore, Bo Dai, Jincheng Mei, Lihong Li, Csaba Szepesvari, Dale Schuurmans

Batch policy optimization considers leveraging existing data for policy construction before interacting with an environment. Although interest in this problem has grown significantly in recent years, its theoretical foundations remain under-developed. To advance the understanding of this problem, we provide three results that characterize the limits and possibilities of batch policy optimization in the finite-armed stochastic bandit setting. First, we introduce a class of confidence-adjusted index algorithms that unifies optimistic and pessimistic principles in a common framework, which enables a general analysis. For this family, we show that any confidence-adjusted index algorithm is minimax optimal, whether it be optimistic, pessimistic or neutral. Our analysis reveals that instance-dependent optimality, commonly used to establish optimality of on-line stochastic bandit algorithms, cannot be achieved by any algorithm in the batch setting. In particular, for any algorithm that performs optimally in some environment, there exists another environment where the same algorithm suffers arbitrarily larger regret. Therefore, to establish a framework for distinguishing algorithms, we introduce a new weighted-minimax criterion that considers the inherent difficulty of optimal value prediction. We demonstrate how this criterion can be used to justify commonly used pessimistic principles for batch policy optimization.

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Jiachen Hu, Xiaoyu Chen, Chi Jin, Lihong Li, Liwei Wang

This paper studies representation learning for multi-task linear bandits and multi-task episodic RL with linear value function approximation. We first consider the setting where we play $M$ linear bandits with dimension $d$ concurrently, and these bandits share a common $k$-dimensional linear representation so that $k\ll d$ and $k \ll M$. We propose a sample-efficient algorithm, MTLR-OFUL, which leverages the shared representation to achieve $\tilde{O}(M\sqrt{dkT} + d\sqrt{kMT} )$ regret, with $T$ being the number of total steps. Our regret significantly improves upon the baseline $\tilde{O}(Md\sqrt{T})$ achieved by solving each task independently. We further develop a lower bound that shows our regret is near-optimal when $d > M$. Furthermore, we extend the algorithm and analysis to multi-task episodic RL with linear value function approximation under low inherent Bellman error \citep{zanette2020learning}. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first theoretical result that characterizes the benefits of multi-task representation learning for exploration in RL with function approximation.

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Bo Dai, Ofir Nachum, Yinlam Chow, Lihong Li, Csaba Szepesvári, Dale Schuurmans

We study high-confidence behavior-agnostic off-policy evaluation in reinforcement learning, where the goal is to estimate a confidence interval on a target policy's value, given only access to a static experience dataset collected by unknown behavior policies. Starting from a function space embedding of the linear program formulation of the $Q$-function, we obtain an optimization problem with generalized estimating equation constraints. By applying the generalized empirical likelihood method to the resulting Lagrangian, we propose CoinDICE, a novel and efficient algorithm for computing confidence intervals. Theoretically, we prove the obtained confidence intervals are valid, in both asymptotic and finite-sample regimes. Empirically, we show in a variety of benchmarks that the confidence interval estimates are tighter and more accurate than existing methods.

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Weitong Zhang, Dongruo Zhou, Lihong Li, Quanquan Gu

Thompson Sampling (TS) is one of the most effective algorithms for solving contextual multi-armed bandit problems. In this paper, we propose a new algorithm, called Neural Thompson Sampling, which adapts deep neural networks for both exploration and exploitation. At the core of our algorithm is a novel posterior distribution of the reward, where its mean is the neural network approximator, and its variance is built upon the neural tangent features of the corresponding neural network. We prove that, provided the underlying reward function is bounded, the proposed algorithm is guaranteed to achieve a cumulative regret of $\mathcal{O}(T^{1/2})$, which matches the regret of other contextual bandit algorithms in terms of total round number $T$. Experimental comparisons with other benchmark bandit algorithms on various data sets corroborate our theory.

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Xiaoyu Chen, Jiachen Hu, Lihong Li, Liwei Wang

Reinforcement learning (RL) in episodic, factored Markov decision processes (FMDPs) is studied. We propose an algorithm called FMDP-BF, which leverages the factorization structure of FMDP. The regret of FMDP-BF is shown to be exponentially smaller than that of optimal algorithms designed for non-factored MDPs, and improves on the best previous result for FMDPs~\citep{osband2014near} by a factored of $\sqrt{H|\mathcal{S}_i|}$, where $|\mathcal{S}_i|$ is the cardinality of the factored state subspace and $H$ is the planning horizon. To show the optimality of our bounds, we also provide a lower bound for FMDP, which indicates that our algorithm is near-optimal w.r.t. timestep $T$, horizon $H$ and factored state-action subspace cardinality. Finally, as an application, we study a new formulation of constrained RL, known as RL with knapsack constraints (RLwK), and provides the first sample-efficient algorithm based on FMDP-BF.

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