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Abstract:Bayesian optimization is a technique for efficiently optimizing unknown functions in a black-box manner. To handle practical settings where gathering data requires use of finite resources, it is desirable to explicitly incorporate function evaluation costs into Bayesian optimization policies. To understand how to do so, we develop a previously-unexplored connection between cost-aware Bayesian optimization and the Pandora's Box problem, a decision problem from economics. The Pandora's Box problem admits a Bayesian-optimal solution based on an expression called the Gittins index, which can be reinterpreted as an acquisition function. We study the use of this acquisition function for cost-aware Bayesian optimization, and demonstrate empirically that it performs well, particularly in medium-high dimensions. We further show that this performance carries over to classical Bayesian optimization without explicit evaluation costs. Our work constitutes a first step towards integrating techniques from Gittins index theory into Bayesian optimization.

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Abstract:Preferential Bayesian optimization (PBO) is a framework for optimizing a decision-maker's latent preferences over available design choices. While preferences often involve multiple conflicting objectives, existing work in PBO assumes that preferences can be encoded by a single objective function. For example, in robotic assistive devices, technicians often attempt to maximize user comfort while simultaneously minimizing mechanical energy consumption for longer battery life. Similarly, in autonomous driving policy design, decision-makers wish to understand the trade-offs between multiple safety and performance attributes before committing to a policy. To address this gap, we propose the first framework for PBO with multiple objectives. Within this framework, we present dueling scalarized Thompson sampling (DSTS), a multi-objective generalization of the popular dueling Thompson algorithm, which may be of interest beyond the PBO setting. We evaluate DSTS across four synthetic test functions and two simulated exoskeleton personalization and driving policy design tasks, showing that it outperforms several benchmarks. Finally, we prove that DSTS is asymptotically consistent. As a direct consequence, this result provides, to our knowledge, the first convergence guarantee for dueling Thompson sampling in the PBO setting.

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Authors:Poompol Buathong, Jiayue Wan, Samuel Daulton, Raul Astudillo, Maximilian Balandat, Peter I. Frazier

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Abstract:Bayesian optimization is a framework for optimizing functions that are costly or time-consuming to evaluate. Recent work has considered Bayesian optimization of function networks (BOFN), where the objective function is computed via a network of functions, each taking as input the output of previous nodes in the network and additional parameters. Exploiting this network structure has been shown to yield significant performance improvements. Existing BOFN algorithms for general-purpose networks are required to evaluate the full network at each iteration. However, many real-world applications allow evaluating nodes individually. To take advantage of this opportunity, we propose a novel knowledge gradient acquisition function for BOFN that chooses which node to evaluate as well as the inputs for that node in a cost-aware fashion. This approach can dramatically reduce query costs by allowing the evaluation of part of the network at a lower cost relative to evaluating the entire network. We provide an efficient approach to optimizing our acquisition function and show it outperforms existing BOFN methods and other benchmarks across several synthetic and real-world problems. Our acquisition function is the first to enable cost-aware optimization of a broad class of function networks.

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Abstract:Preferential Bayesian optimization (PBO) is a framework for optimizing a decision maker's latent utility function using preference feedback. This work introduces the expected utility of the best option (qEUBO) as a novel acquisition function for PBO. When the decision maker's responses are noise-free, we show that qEUBO is one-step Bayes optimal and thus equivalent to the popular knowledge gradient acquisition function. We also show that qEUBO enjoys an additive constant approximation guarantee to the one-step Bayes-optimal policy when the decision maker's responses are corrupted by noise. We provide an extensive evaluation of qEUBO and demonstrate that it outperforms the state-of-the-art acquisition functions for PBO across many settings. Finally, we show that, under sufficient regularity conditions, qEUBO's Bayesian simple regret converges to zero at a rate $o(1/n)$ as the number of queries, $n$, goes to infinity. In contrast, we show that simple regret under qEI, a popular acquisition function for standard BO often used for PBO, can fail to converge to zero. Enjoying superior performance, simple computation, and a grounded decision-theoretic justification, qEUBO is a promising acquisition function for PBO.

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Abstract:We consider Bayesian optimization of expensive-to-evaluate experiments that generate vector-valued outcomes over which a decision-maker (DM) has preferences. These preferences are encoded by a utility function that is not known in closed form but can be estimated by asking the DM to express preferences over pairs of outcome vectors. To address this problem, we develop Bayesian optimization with preference exploration, a novel framework that alternates between interactive real-time preference learning with the DM via pairwise comparisons between outcomes, and Bayesian optimization with a learned compositional model of DM utility and outcomes. Within this framework, we propose preference exploration strategies specifically designed for this task, and demonstrate their performance via extensive simulation studies.

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Abstract:Bayesian optimization (BO) is a framework for global optimization of expensive-to-evaluate objective functions. Classical BO methods assume that the objective function is a black box. However, internal information about objective function computation is often available. For example, when optimizing a manufacturing line's throughput with simulation, we observe the number of parts waiting at each workstation, in addition to the overall throughput. Recent BO methods leverage such internal information to dramatically improve performance. We call these "grey-box" BO methods because they treat objective computation as partially observable and even modifiable, blending the black-box approach with so-called "white-box" first-principles knowledge of objective function computation. This tutorial describes these methods, focusing on BO of composite objective functions, where one can observe and selectively evaluate individual constituents that feed into the overall objective; and multi-fidelity BO, where one can evaluate cheaper approximations of the objective function by varying parameters of the evaluation oracle.

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Abstract:We consider Bayesian optimization of the output of a network of functions, where each function takes as input the output of its parent nodes, and where the network takes significant time to evaluate. Such problems arise, for example, in reinforcement learning, engineering design, and manufacturing. While the standard Bayesian optimization approach observes only the final output, our approach delivers greater query efficiency by leveraging information that the former ignores: intermediate output within the network. This is achieved by modeling the nodes of the network using Gaussian processes and choosing the points to evaluate using, as our acquisition function, the expected improvement computed with respect to the implied posterior on the objective. Although the non-Gaussian nature of this posterior prevents computing our acquisition function in closed form, we show that it can be efficiently maximized via sample average approximation. In addition, we prove that our method is asymptotically consistent, meaning that it finds a globally optimal solution as the number of evaluations grows to infinity, thus generalizing previously known convergence results for the expected improvement. Notably, this holds even though our method might not evaluate the domain densely, instead leveraging problem structure to leave regions unexplored. Finally, we show that our approach dramatically outperforms standard Bayesian optimization methods in several synthetic and real-world problems.

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Abstract:Bayesian optimization (BO) is a sample-efficient approach to optimizing costly-to-evaluate black-box functions. Most BO methods ignore how evaluation costs may vary over the optimization domain. However, these costs can be highly heterogeneous and are often unknown in advance. This occurs in many practical settings, such as hyperparameter tuning of machine learning algorithms or physics-based simulation optimization. Moreover, those few existing methods that acknowledge cost heterogeneity do not naturally accommodate a budget constraint on the total evaluation cost. This combination of unknown costs and a budget constraint introduces a new dimension to the exploration-exploitation trade-off, where learning about the cost incurs the cost itself. Existing methods do not reason about the various trade-offs of this problem in a principled way, leading often to poor performance. We formalize this claim by proving that the expected improvement and the expected improvement per unit of cost, arguably the two most widely used acquisition functions in practice, can be arbitrarily inferior with respect to the optimal non-myopic policy. To overcome the shortcomings of existing approaches, we propose the budgeted multi-step expected improvement, a non-myopic acquisition function that generalizes classical expected improvement to the setting of heterogeneous and unknown evaluation costs. Finally, we show that our acquisition function outperforms existing methods in a variety of synthetic and real problems.

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Abstract:We consider Bayesian optimization of objective functions of the form $\rho[ F(x, W) ]$, where $F$ is a black-box expensive-to-evaluate function and $\rho$ denotes either the VaR or CVaR risk measure, computed with respect to the randomness induced by the environmental random variable $W$. Such problems arise in decision making under uncertainty, such as in portfolio optimization and robust systems design. We propose a family of novel Bayesian optimization algorithms that exploit the structure of the objective function to substantially improve sampling efficiency. Instead of modeling the objective function directly as is typical in Bayesian optimization, these algorithms model $F$ as a Gaussian process, and use the implied posterior on the objective function to decide which points to evaluate. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach in a variety of numerical experiments.

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Abstract:We consider black-box global optimization of time-consuming-to-evaluate functions on behalf of a decision-maker whose preferences must be learned. Each feasible design is associated with a time-consuming-to-evaluate vector of attributes, each vector of attributes is assigned a utility by the decision-maker's utility function, and this utility function may be learned approximately using preferences expressed by the decision-maker over pairs of attribute vectors. Past work has used this estimated utility function as if it were error-free within single-objective optimization. However, errors in utility estimation may yield a poor suggested decision. Furthermore, this approach produces a single suggested "best" design, whereas decision-makers often prefer to choose among a menu of designs. We propose a novel Bayesian optimization algorithm that acknowledges the uncertainty in preference estimation and implicitly chooses designs to evaluate using the time-consuming function that are good not just for a single estimated utility function but a range of likely utility functions. Our algorithm then shows a menu of designs and evaluated attributes to the decision-maker who makes a final selection. We demonstrate the value of our algorithm in a variety of numerical experiments.

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