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Yuval Dagan, Constantinos Daskalakis, Maxwell Fishelson, Noah Golowich

We provide a novel reduction from swap-regret minimization to external-regret minimization, which improves upon the classical reductions of Blum-Mansour [BM07] and Stolz-Lugosi [SL05] in that it does not require finiteness of the space of actions. We show that, whenever there exists a no-external-regret algorithm for some hypothesis class, there must also exist a no-swap-regret algorithm for that same class. For the problem of learning with expert advice, our result implies that it is possible to guarantee that the swap regret is bounded by {\epsilon} after $\log(N)^{O(1/\epsilon)}$ rounds and with $O(N)$ per iteration complexity, where $N$ is the number of experts, while the classical reductions of Blum-Mansour and Stolz-Lugosi require $O(N/\epsilon^2)$ rounds and at least $\Omega(N^2)$ per iteration complexity. Our result comes with an associated lower bound, which -- in contrast to that in [BM07] -- holds for oblivious and $\ell_1$-constrained adversaries and learners that can employ distributions over experts, showing that the number of rounds must be $\tilde\Omega(N/\epsilon^2)$ or exponential in $1/\epsilon$. Our reduction implies that, if no-regret learning is possible in some game, then this game must have approximate correlated equilibria, of arbitrarily good approximation. This strengthens the folklore implication of no-regret learning that approximate coarse correlated equilibria exist. Importantly, it provides a sufficient condition for the existence of correlated equilibrium which vastly extends the requirement that the action set is finite, thus answering a question left open by [DG22; Ass+23]. Moreover, it answers several outstanding questions about equilibrium computation and/or learning in games.

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Constantinos Daskalakis, Noah Golowich, Nika Haghtalab, Abhishek Shetty

A fundamental shortcoming of the concept of Nash equilibrium is its computational intractability: approximating Nash equilibria in normal-form games is PPAD-hard. In this paper, inspired by the ideas of smoothed analysis, we introduce a relaxed variant of Nash equilibrium called $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibrium, for a smoothness parameter $\sigma$. In a $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibrium, players only need to achieve utility at least as high as their best deviation to a $\sigma$-smooth strategy, which is a distribution that does not put too much mass (as parametrized by $\sigma$) on any fixed action. We distinguish two variants of $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibria: strong $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibria, in which players are required to play $\sigma$-smooth strategies under equilibrium play, and weak $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibria, where there is no such requirement. We show that both weak and strong $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibria have superior computational properties to Nash equilibria: when $\sigma$ as well as an approximation parameter $\epsilon$ and the number of players are all constants, there is a constant-time randomized algorithm to find a weak $\epsilon$-approximate $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibrium in normal-form games. In the same parameter regime, there is a polynomial-time deterministic algorithm to find a strong $\epsilon$-approximate $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibrium in a normal-form game. These results stand in contrast to the optimal algorithm for computing $\epsilon$-approximate Nash equilibria, which cannot run in faster than quasipolynomial-time. We complement our upper bounds by showing that when either $\sigma$ or $\epsilon$ is an inverse polynomial, finding a weak $\epsilon$-approximate $\sigma$-smooth Nash equilibria becomes computationally intractable.

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Noah Golowich, Ankur Moitra, Dhruv Rohatgi

The key assumption underlying linear Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) is that the learner has access to a known feature map $\phi(x, a)$ that maps state-action pairs to $d$-dimensional vectors, and that the rewards and transitions are linear functions in this representation. But where do these features come from? In the absence of expert domain knowledge, a tempting strategy is to use the ``kitchen sink" approach and hope that the true features are included in a much larger set of potential features. In this paper we revisit linear MDPs from the perspective of feature selection. In a $k$-sparse linear MDP, there is an unknown subset $S \subset [d]$ of size $k$ containing all the relevant features, and the goal is to learn a near-optimal policy in only poly$(k,\log d)$ interactions with the environment. Our main result is the first polynomial-time algorithm for this problem. In contrast, earlier works either made prohibitively strong assumptions that obviated the need for exploration, or required solving computationally intractable optimization problems. Along the way we introduce the notion of an emulator: a succinct approximate representation of the transitions that suffices for computing certain Bellman backups. Since linear MDPs are a non-parametric model, it is not even obvious whether polynomial-sized emulators exist. We show that they do exist and can be computed efficiently via convex programming. As a corollary of our main result, we give an algorithm for learning a near-optimal policy in block MDPs whose decoding function is a low-depth decision tree; the algorithm runs in quasi-polynomial time and takes a polynomial number of samples. This can be seen as a reinforcement learning analogue of classic results in computational learning theory. Furthermore, it gives a natural model where improving the sample complexity via representation learning is computationally feasible.

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Dylan J. Foster, Dean P. Foster, Noah Golowich, Alexander Rakhlin

A central problem in the theory of multi-agent reinforcement learning (MARL) is to understand what structural conditions and algorithmic principles lead to sample-efficient learning guarantees, and how these considerations change as we move from few to many agents. We study this question in a general framework for interactive decision making with multiple agents, encompassing Markov games with function approximation and normal-form games with bandit feedback. We focus on equilibrium computation, in which a centralized learning algorithm aims to compute an equilibrium by controlling multiple agents that interact with an unknown environment. Our main contributions are: - We provide upper and lower bounds on the optimal sample complexity for multi-agent decision making based on a multi-agent generalization of the Decision-Estimation Coefficient, a complexity measure introduced by Foster et al. (2021) in the single-agent counterpart to our setting. Compared to the best results for the single-agent setting, our bounds have additional gaps. We show that no "reasonable" complexity measure can close these gaps, highlighting a striking separation between single and multiple agents. - We show that characterizing the statistical complexity for multi-agent decision making is equivalent to characterizing the statistical complexity of single-agent decision making, but with hidden (unobserved) rewards, a framework that subsumes variants of the partial monitoring problem. As a consequence, we characterize the statistical complexity for hidden-reward interactive decision making to the best extent possible. Building on this development, we provide several new structural results, including 1) conditions under which the statistical complexity of multi-agent decision making can be reduced to that of single-agent, and 2) conditions under which the so-called curse of multiple agents can be avoided.

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Dylan J. Foster, Noah Golowich, Sham M. Kakade

We consider the problem of decentralized multi-agent reinforcement learning in Markov games. A fundamental question is whether there exist algorithms that, when adopted by all agents and run independently in a decentralized fashion, lead to no-regret for each player, analogous to celebrated convergence results in normal-form games. While recent work has shown that such algorithms exist for restricted settings (notably, when regret is defined with respect to deviations to Markovian policies), the question of whether independent no-regret learning can be achieved in the standard Markov game framework was open. We provide a decisive negative resolution this problem, both from a computational and statistical perspective. We show that: - Under the widely-believed assumption that PPAD-hard problems cannot be solved in polynomial time, there is no polynomial-time algorithm that attains no-regret in general-sum Markov games when executed independently by all players, even when the game is known to the algorithm designer and the number of players is a small constant. - When the game is unknown, no algorithm, regardless of computational efficiency, can achieve no-regret without observing a number of episodes that is exponential in the number of players. Perhaps surprisingly, our lower bounds hold even for seemingly easier setting in which all agents are controlled by a a centralized algorithm. They are proven via lower bounds for a simpler problem we refer to as SparseCCE, in which the goal is to compute a coarse correlated equilibrium that is sparse in the sense that it can be represented as a mixture of a small number of product policies. The crux of our approach is a novel application of aggregation techniques from online learning, whereby we show that any algorithm for the SparseCCE problem can be used to compute approximate Nash equilibria for non-zero sum normal-form games.

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Dylan J. Foster, Noah Golowich, Yanjun Han

A foundational problem in reinforcement learning and interactive decision making is to understand what modeling assumptions lead to sample-efficient learning guarantees, and what algorithm design principles achieve optimal sample complexity. Recently, Foster et al. (2021) introduced the Decision-Estimation Coefficient (DEC), a measure of statistical complexity which leads to upper and lower bounds on the optimal sample complexity for a general class of problems encompassing bandits and reinforcement learning with function approximation. In this paper, we introduce a new variant of the DEC, the Constrained Decision-Estimation Coefficient, and use it to derive new lower bounds that improve upon prior work on three fronts: - They hold in expectation, with no restrictions on the class of algorithms under consideration. - They hold globally, and do not rely on the notion of localization used by Foster et al. (2021). - Most interestingly, they allow the reference model with respect to which the DEC is defined to be improper, establishing that improper reference models play a fundamental role. We provide upper bounds on regret that scale with the same quantity, thereby closing all but one of the gaps between upper and lower bounds in Foster et al. (2021). Our results apply to both the regret framework and PAC framework, and make use of several new analysis and algorithm design techniques that we anticipate will find broader use.

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Dylan J. Foster, Noah Golowich, Jian Qian, Alexander Rakhlin, Ayush Sekhari

We consider the problem of interactive decision making, encompassing structured bandits and reinforcement learning with general function approximation. Recently, Foster et al. (2021) introduced the Decision-Estimation Coefficient, a measure of statistical complexity that lower bounds the optimal regret for interactive decision making, as well as a meta-algorithm, Estimation-to-Decisions, which achieves upper bounds in terms of the same quantity. Estimation-to-Decisions is a reduction, which lifts algorithms for (supervised) online estimation into algorithms for decision making. In this note, we show that by combining Estimation-to-Decisions with a specialized form of optimistic estimation introduced by Zhang (2022), it is possible to obtain guarantees that improve upon those of Foster et al. (2021) by accommodating more lenient notions of estimation error. We use this approach to derive regret bounds for model-free reinforcement learning with value function approximation.

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Constantinos Daskalakis, Noah Golowich, Stratis Skoulakis, Manolis Zampetakis

Min-max optimization problems involving nonconvex-nonconcave objectives have found important applications in adversarial training and other multi-agent learning settings. Yet, no known gradient descent-based method is guaranteed to converge to (even local notions of) min-max equilibrium in the nonconvex-nonconcave setting. For all known methods, there exist relatively simple objectives for which they cycle or exhibit other undesirable behavior different from converging to a point, let alone to some game-theoretically meaningful one~\cite{flokas2019poincare,hsieh2021limits}. The only known convergence guarantees hold under the strong assumption that the initialization is very close to a local min-max equilibrium~\cite{wang2019solving}. Moreover, the afore-described challenges are not just theoretical curiosities. All known methods are unstable in practice, even in simple settings. We propose the first method that is guaranteed to converge to a local min-max equilibrium for smooth nonconvex-nonconcave objectives. Our method is second-order and provably escapes limit cycles as long as it is initialized at an easy-to-find initial point. Both the definition of our method and its convergence analysis are motivated by the topological nature of the problem. In particular, our method is not designed to decrease some potential function, such as the distance of its iterate from the set of local min-max equilibria or the projected gradient of the objective, but is designed to satisfy a topological property that guarantees the avoidance of cycles and implies its convergence.

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Noah Golowich, Ankur Moitra, Dhruv Rohatgi

Much of reinforcement learning theory is built on top of oracles that are computationally hard to implement. Specifically for learning near-optimal policies in Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes (POMDPs), existing algorithms either need to make strong assumptions about the model dynamics (e.g. deterministic transitions) or assume access to an oracle for solving a hard optimistic planning or estimation problem as a subroutine. In this work we develop the first oracle-free learning algorithm for POMDPs under reasonable assumptions. Specifically, we give a quasipolynomial-time end-to-end algorithm for learning in "observable" POMDPs, where observability is the assumption that well-separated distributions over states induce well-separated distributions over observations. Our techniques circumvent the more traditional approach of using the principle of optimism under uncertainty to promote exploration, and instead give a novel application of barycentric spanners to constructing policy covers.

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Constantinos Daskalakis, Noah Golowich, Kaiqing Zhang

We show that computing approximate stationary Markov coarse correlated equilibria (CCE) in general-sum stochastic games is computationally intractable, even when there are two players, the game is turn-based, the discount factor is an absolute constant, and the approximation is an absolute constant. Our intractability results stand in sharp contrast to normal-form games where exact CCEs are efficiently computable. A fortiori, our results imply that there are no efficient algorithms for learning stationary Markov CCE policies in multi-agent reinforcement learning (MARL), even when the interaction is two-player and turn-based, and both the discount factor and the desired approximation of the learned policies is an absolute constant. In turn, these results stand in sharp contrast to single-agent reinforcement learning (RL) where near-optimal stationary Markov policies can be efficiently learned. Complementing our intractability results for stationary Markov CCEs, we provide a decentralized algorithm (assuming shared randomness among players) for learning a nonstationary Markov CCE policy with polynomial time and sample complexity in all problem parameters. Previous work for learning Markov CCE policies all required exponential time and sample complexity in the number of players.

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