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Abstract:We study security threats to Markov games due to information asymmetry and misinformation. We consider an attacker player who can spread misinformation about its reward function to influence the robust victim player's behavior. Given a fixed fake reward function, we derive the victim's policy under worst-case rationality and present polynomial-time algorithms to compute the attacker's optimal worst-case policy based on linear programming and backward induction. Then, we provide an efficient inception ("planting an idea in someone's mind") attack algorithm to find the optimal fake reward function within a restricted set of reward functions with dominant strategies. Importantly, our methods exploit the universal assumption of rationality to compute attacks efficiently. Thus, our work exposes a security vulnerability arising from standard game assumptions under misinformation.

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Abstract:We study robust Markov games (RMG) with $s$-rectangular uncertainty. We show a general equivalence between computing a robust Nash equilibrium (RNE) of a $s$-rectangular RMG and computing a Nash equilibrium (NE) of an appropriately constructed regularized MG. The equivalence result yields a planning algorithm for solving $s$-rectangular RMGs, as well as provable robustness guarantees for policies computed using regularized methods. However, we show that even for just reward-uncertain two-player zero-sum matrix games, computing an RNE is PPAD-hard. Consequently, we derive a special uncertainty structure called efficient player-decomposability and show that RNE for two-player zero-sum RMG in this class can be provably solved in polynomial time. This class includes commonly used uncertainty sets such as $L_1$ and $L_\infty$ ball uncertainty sets.

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Abstract:In this paper, we study multi-task structured bandit problem where the goal is to learn a near-optimal algorithm that minimizes cumulative regret. The tasks share a common structure and the algorithm exploits the shared structure to minimize the cumulative regret for an unseen but related test task. We use a transformer as a decision-making algorithm to learn this shared structure so as to generalize to the test task. The prior work of pretrained decision transformers like DPT requires access to the optimal action during training which may be hard in several scenarios. Diverging from these works, our learning algorithm does not need the knowledge of optimal action per task during training but predicts a reward vector for each of the actions using only the observed offline data from the diverse training tasks. Finally, during inference time, it selects action using the reward predictions employing various exploration strategies in-context for an unseen test task. Our model outperforms other SOTA methods like DPT, and Algorithmic Distillation over a series of experiments on several structured bandit problems (linear, bilinear, latent, non-linear). Interestingly, we show that our algorithm, without the knowledge of the underlying problem structure, can learn a near-optimal policy in-context by leveraging the shared structure across diverse tasks. We further extend the field of pre-trained decision transformers by showing that they can leverage unseen tasks with new actions and still learn the underlying latent structure to derive a near-optimal policy. We validate this over several experiments to show that our proposed solution is very general and has wide applications to potentially emergent online and offline strategies at test time. Finally, we theoretically analyze the performance of our algorithm and obtain generalization bounds in the in-context multi-task learning setting.

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Abstract:We consider the discrete-time infinite-horizon average-reward restless bandit problem. We propose a novel policy that maintains two dynamic subsets of arms: one subset of arms has a nearly optimal state distribution and takes actions according to an Optimal Local Control routine; the other subset of arms is driven towards the optimal state distribution and gradually merged into the first subset. We show that our policy is asymptotically optimal with an $O(\exp(-C N))$ optimality gap for an $N$-armed problem, under the mild assumptions of aperiodic-unichain, non-degeneracy, and local stability. Our policy is the first to achieve exponential asymptotic optimality under the above set of easy-to-verify assumptions, whereas prior work either requires a strong Global Attractor assumption or only achieves an $O(1/\sqrt{N})$ optimality gap. We further discuss the fundamental obstacles in significantly weakening our assumptions. In particular, we prove a lower bound showing that local stability is fundamental for exponential asymptotic optimality.

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Abstract:In this work, we investigate stochastic approximation (SA) with Markovian data and nonlinear updates under constant stepsize $\alpha>0$. Existing work has primarily focused on either i.i.d. data or linear update rules. We take a new perspective and carefully examine the simultaneous presence of Markovian dependency of data and nonlinear update rules, delineating how the interplay between these two structures leads to complications that are not captured by prior techniques. By leveraging the smoothness and recurrence properties of the SA updates, we develop a fine-grained analysis of the correlation between the SA iterates $\theta_k$ and Markovian data $x_k$. This enables us to overcome the obstacles in existing analysis and establish for the first time the weak convergence of the joint process $(x_k, \theta_k)_{k\geq0}$. Furthermore, we present a precise characterization of the asymptotic bias of the SA iterates, given by $\mathbb{E}[\theta_\infty]-\theta^\ast=\alpha(b_\text{m}+b_\text{n}+b_\text{c})+O(\alpha^{3/2})$. Here, $b_\text{m}$ is associated with the Markovian noise, $b_\text{n}$ is tied to the nonlinearity, and notably, $b_\text{c}$ represents a multiplicative interaction between the Markovian noise and nonlinearity, which is absent in previous works. As a by-product of our analysis, we derive finite-time bounds on higher moment $\mathbb{E}[\|\theta_k-\theta^\ast\|^{2p}]$ and present non-asymptotic geometric convergence rates for the iterates, along with a Central Limit Theorem.

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Abstract:Motivated by Q-learning, we study nonsmooth contractive stochastic approximation (SA) with constant stepsize. We focus on two important classes of dynamics: 1) nonsmooth contractive SA with additive noise, and 2) synchronous and asynchronous Q-learning, which features both additive and multiplicative noise. For both dynamics, we establish weak convergence of the iterates to a stationary limit distribution in Wasserstein distance. Furthermore, we propose a prelimit coupling technique for establishing steady-state convergence and characterize the limit of the stationary distribution as the stepsize goes to zero. Using this result, we derive that the asymptotic bias of nonsmooth SA is proportional to the square root of the stepsize, which stands in sharp contrast to smooth SA. This bias characterization allows for the use of Richardson-Romberg extrapolation for bias reduction in nonsmooth SA.

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Abstract:We consider the infinite-horizon, average-reward restless bandit problem in discrete time. We propose a new class of policies that are designed to drive a progressively larger subset of arms toward the optimal distribution. We show that our policies are asymptotically optimal with an $O(1/\sqrt{N})$ optimality gap for an $N$-armed problem, provided that the single-armed relaxed problem is unichain and aperiodic. Our approach departs from most existing work that focuses on index or priority policies, which rely on the Uniform Global Attractor Property (UGAP) to guarantee convergence to the optimum, or a recently developed simulation-based policy, which requires a Synchronization Assumption (SA).

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Abstract:Stochastic Approximation (SA) is a widely used algorithmic approach in various fields, including optimization and reinforcement learning (RL). Among RL algorithms, Q-learning is particularly popular due to its empirical success. In this paper, we study asynchronous Q-learning with constant stepsize, which is commonly used in practice for its fast convergence. By connecting the constant stepsize Q-learning to a time-homogeneous Markov chain, we show the distributional convergence of the iterates in Wasserstein distance and establish its exponential convergence rate. We also establish a Central Limit Theory for Q-learning iterates, demonstrating the asymptotic normality of the averaged iterates. Moreover, we provide an explicit expansion of the asymptotic bias of the averaged iterate in stepsize. Specifically, the bias is proportional to the stepsize up to higher-order terms and we provide an explicit expression for the linear coefficient. This precise characterization of the bias allows the application of Richardson-Romberg (RR) extrapolation technique to construct a new estimate that is provably closer to the optimal Q function. Numerical results corroborate our theoretical finding on the improvement of the RR extrapolation method.

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Abstract:In this paper, we study the effectiveness of using a constant stepsize in statistical inference via linear stochastic approximation (LSA) algorithms with Markovian data. After establishing a Central Limit Theorem (CLT), we outline an inference procedure that uses averaged LSA iterates to construct confidence intervals (CIs). Our procedure leverages the fast mixing property of constant-stepsize LSA for better covariance estimation and employs Richardson-Romberg (RR) extrapolation to reduce the bias induced by constant stepsize and Markovian data. We develop theoretical results for guiding stepsize selection in RR extrapolation, and identify several important settings where the bias provably vanishes even without extrapolation. We conduct extensive numerical experiments and compare against classical inference approaches. Our results show that using a constant stepsize enjoys easy hyperparameter tuning, fast convergence, and consistently better CI coverage, especially when data is limited.

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Abstract:To ensure the usefulness of Reinforcement Learning (RL) in real systems, it is crucial to ensure they are robust to noise and adversarial attacks. In adversarial RL, an external attacker has the power to manipulate the victim agent's interaction with the environment. We study the full class of online manipulation attacks, which include (i) state attacks, (ii) observation attacks (which are a generalization of perceived-state attacks), (iii) action attacks, and (iv) reward attacks. We show the attacker's problem of designing a stealthy attack that maximizes its own expected reward, which often corresponds to minimizing the victim's value, is captured by a Markov Decision Process (MDP) that we call a meta-MDP since it is not the true environment but a higher level environment induced by the attacked interaction. We show that the attacker can derive optimal attacks by planning in polynomial time or learning with polynomial sample complexity using standard RL techniques. We argue that the optimal defense policy for the victim can be computed as the solution to a stochastic Stackelberg game, which can be further simplified into a partially-observable turn-based stochastic game (POTBSG). Neither the attacker nor the victim would benefit from deviating from their respective optimal policies, thus such solutions are truly robust. Although the defense problem is NP-hard, we show that optimal Markovian defenses can be computed (learned) in polynomial time (sample complexity) in many scenarios.

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