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University of Oxford

Abstract:Within the field of optimal transport (OT), the choice of ground cost is crucial to ensuring that the optimality of a transport map corresponds to usefulness in real-world applications. It is therefore desirable to use known information to tailor cost functions and hence learn OT maps which are adapted to the problem at hand. By considering a class of neural ground costs whose Monge maps have a known form, we construct a differentiable Monge map estimator which can be optimized to be consistent with known information about an OT map. In doing so, we simultaneously learn both an OT map estimator and a corresponding adapted cost function. Through suitable choices of loss function, our method provides a general approach for incorporating prior information about the Monge map itself when learning adapted OT maps and cost functions.

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Abstract:Policy Mirror Descent (PMD) is a popular framework in reinforcement learning, serving as a unifying perspective that encompasses numerous algorithms. These algorithms are derived through the selection of a mirror map and enjoy finite-time convergence guarantees. Despite its popularity, the exploration of PMD's full potential is limited, with the majority of research focusing on a particular mirror map -- namely, the negative entropy -- which gives rise to the renowned Natural Policy Gradient (NPG) method. It remains uncertain from existing theoretical studies whether the choice of mirror map significantly influences PMD's efficacy. In our work, we conduct empirical investigations to show that the conventional mirror map choice (NPG) often yields less-than-optimal outcomes across several standard benchmark environments. By applying a meta-learning approach, we identify more efficient mirror maps that enhance performance, both on average and in terms of best performance achieved along the training trajectory. We analyze the characteristics of these learned mirror maps and reveal shared traits among certain settings. Our results suggest that mirror maps have the potential to be adaptable across various environments, raising questions about how to best match a mirror map to an environment's structure and characteristics.

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Abstract:We develop generalization error bounds for stochastic gradient descent (SGD) with label noise in non-convex settings under uniform dissipativity and smoothness conditions. Under a suitable choice of semimetric, we establish a contraction in Wasserstein distance of the label noise stochastic gradient flow that depends polynomially on the parameter dimension $d$. Using the framework of algorithmic stability, we derive time-independent generalisation error bounds for the discretized algorithm with a constant learning rate. The error bound we achieve scales polynomially with $d$ and with the rate of $n^{-2/3}$, where $n$ is the sample size. This rate is better than the best-known rate of $n^{-1/2}$ established for stochastic gradient Langevin dynamics (SGLD) -- which employs parameter-independent Gaussian noise -- under similar conditions. Our analysis offers quantitative insights into the effect of label noise.

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Abstract:We theoretically explore the relationship between sample-efficiency and adaptivity in reinforcement learning. An algorithm is sample-efficient if it uses a number of queries $n$ to the environment that is polynomial in the dimension $d$ of the problem. Adaptivity refers to the frequency at which queries are sent and feedback is processed to update the querying strategy. To investigate this interplay, we employ a learning framework that allows sending queries in $K$ batches, with feedback being processed and queries updated after each batch. This model encompasses the whole adaptivity spectrum, ranging from non-adaptive 'offline' ($K=1$) to fully adaptive ($K=n$) scenarios, and regimes in between. For the problems of policy evaluation and best-policy identification under $d$-dimensional linear function approximation, we establish $\Omega(\log \log d)$ lower bounds on the number of batches $K$ required for sample-efficient algorithms with $n = O(poly(d))$ queries. Our results show that just having adaptivity ($K>1$) does not necessarily guarantee sample-efficiency. Notably, the adaptivity-boundary for sample-efficiency is not between offline reinforcement learning ($K=1$), where sample-efficiency was known to not be possible, and adaptive settings. Instead, the boundary lies between different regimes of adaptivity and depends on the problem dimension.

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Abstract:The classical algorithms used in tabular reinforcement learning (Value Iteration and Policy Iteration) have been shown to converge linearly with a rate given by the discount factor $\gamma$ of a discounted Markov Decision Process. Recently, there has been an increased interest in the study of gradient based methods. In this work, we show that the dimension-free linear $\gamma$-rate of classical reinforcement learning algorithms can be achieved by a general family of unregularised Policy Mirror Descent (PMD) algorithms under an adaptive step-size. We also provide a matching worst-case lower-bound that demonstrates that the $\gamma$-rate is optimal for PMD methods. Our work offers a novel perspective on the convergence of PMD. We avoid the use of the performance difference lemma beyond establishing the monotonic improvement of the iterates, which leads to a simple analysis that may be of independent interest. We also extend our analysis to the inexact setting and establish the first dimension-free $\varepsilon$-optimal sample complexity for unregularised PMD under a generative model, improving upon the best-known result.

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Abstract:Modern policy optimization methods in applied reinforcement learning are often inspired by the trust region policy optimization algorithm, which can be interpreted as a particular instance of policy mirror descent. While theoretical guarantees have been established for this framework, particularly in the tabular setting, the use of a general parametrization scheme remains mostly unjustified. In this work, we introduce a novel framework for policy optimization based on mirror descent that naturally accommodates general parametrizations. The policy class induced by our scheme recovers known classes, e.g. tabular softmax, log-linear, and neural policies. It also generates new ones, depending on the choice of the mirror map. For a general mirror map and parametrization function, we establish the quasi-monotonicity of the updates in value function, global linear convergence rates, and we bound the total variation of the algorithm along its path. To showcase the ability of our framework to accommodate general parametrization schemes, we present a case study involving shallow neural networks.

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Abstract:We analyze the convergence rate of the unregularized natural policy gradient algorithm with log-linear policy parametrizations in infinite-horizon discounted Markov decision processes. In the deterministic case, when the Q-value is known and can be approximated by a linear combination of a known feature function up to a bias error, we show that a geometrically-increasing step size yields a linear convergence rate towards an optimal policy. We then consider the sample-based case, when the best representation of the Q- value function among linear combinations of a known feature function is known up to an estimation error. In this setting, we show that the algorithm enjoys the same linear guarantees as in the deterministic case up to an error term that depends on the estimation error, the bias error, and the condition number of the feature covariance matrix. Our results build upon the general framework of policy mirror descent and extend previous findings for the softmax tabular parametrization to the log-linear policy class.

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Abstract:The local Rademacher complexity framework is one of the most successful general-purpose toolboxes for establishing sharp excess risk bounds for statistical estimators based on the framework of empirical risk minimization. Applying this toolbox typically requires using the Bernstein condition, which often restricts applicability to convex and proper settings. Recent years have witnessed several examples of problems where optimal statistical performance is only achievable via non-convex and improper estimators originating from aggregation theory, including the fundamental problem of model selection. These examples are currently outside of the reach of the classical localization theory. In this work, we build upon the recent approach to localization via offset Rademacher complexities, for which a general high-probability theory has yet to be established. Our main result is an exponential-tail excess risk bound expressed in terms of the offset Rademacher complexity that yields results at least as sharp as those obtainable via the classical theory. However, our bound applies under an estimator-dependent geometric condition (the "offset condition") instead of the estimator-independent (but, in general, distribution-dependent) Bernstein condition on which the classical theory relies. Our results apply to improper prediction regimes not directly covered by the classical theory.

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Abstract:We establish generalization error bounds for stochastic gradient Langevin dynamics (SGLD) with constant learning rate under the assumptions of dissipativity and smoothness, a setting that has received increased attention in the sampling/optimization literature. Unlike existing bounds for SGLD in non-convex settings, ours are time-independent and decay to zero as the sample size increases. Using the framework of uniform stability, we establish time-independent bounds by exploiting the Wasserstein contraction property of the Langevin diffusion, which also allows us to circumvent the need to bound gradients using Lipschitz-like assumptions. Our analysis also supports variants of SGLD that use different discretization methods, incorporate Euclidean projections, or use non-isotropic noise.

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Abstract:Understanding when and why interpolating methods generalize well has recently been a topic of interest in statistical learning theory. However, systematically connecting interpolating methods to achievable notions of optimality has only received partial attention. In this paper, we investigate the question of what is the optimal way to interpolate in linear regression using functions that are linear in the response variable (as the case for the Bayes optimal estimator in ridge regression) and depend on the data, the population covariance of the data, the signal-to-noise ratio and the covariance of the prior for the signal, but do not depend on the value of the signal itself nor the noise vector in the training data. We provide a closed-form expression for the interpolator that achieves this notion of optimality and show that it can be derived as the limit of preconditioned gradient descent with a specific initialization. We identify a regime where the minimum-norm interpolator provably generalizes arbitrarily worse than the optimal response-linear achievable interpolator that we introduce, and validate with numerical experiments that the notion of optimality we consider can be achieved by interpolating methods that only use the training data as input in the case of an isotropic prior. Finally, we extend the notion of optimal response-linear interpolation to random features regression under a linear data-generating model that has been previously studied in the literature.

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