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Kaiwen Wang, Owen Oertell, Alekh Agarwal, Nathan Kallus, Wen Sun

In this paper, we prove that Distributional Reinforcement Learning (DistRL), which learns the return distribution, can obtain second-order bounds in both online and offline RL in general settings with function approximation. Second-order bounds are instance-dependent bounds that scale with the variance of return, which we prove are tighter than the previously known small-loss bounds of distributional RL. To the best of our knowledge, our results are the first second-order bounds for low-rank MDPs and for offline RL. When specializing to contextual bandits (one-step RL problem), we show that a distributional learning based optimism algorithm achieves a second-order worst-case regret bound, and a second-order gap dependent bound, simultaneously. We also empirically demonstrate the benefit of DistRL in contextual bandits on real-world datasets. We highlight that our analysis with DistRL is relatively simple, follows the general framework of optimism in the face of uncertainty and does not require weighted regression. Our results suggest that DistRL is a promising framework for obtaining second-order bounds in general RL settings, thus further reinforcing the benefits of DistRL.

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Yulai Zhao, Wenhao Zhan, Xiaoyan Hu, Ho-fung Leung, Farzan Farnia, Wen Sun, Jason D. Lee

We study risk-sensitive Reinforcement Learning (RL), where we aim to maximize the Conditional Value at Risk (CVaR) with a fixed risk tolerance $\tau$. Prior theoretical work studying risk-sensitive RL focuses on the tabular Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) setting. To extend CVaR RL to settings where state space is large, function approximation must be deployed. We study CVaR RL in low-rank MDPs with nonlinear function approximation. Low-rank MDPs assume the underlying transition kernel admits a low-rank decomposition, but unlike prior linear models, low-rank MDPs do not assume the feature or state-action representation is known. We propose a novel Upper Confidence Bound (UCB) bonus-driven algorithm to carefully balance the interplay between exploration, exploitation, and representation learning in CVaR RL. We prove that our algorithm achieves a sample complexity of $\tilde{O}\left(\frac{H^7 A^2 d^4}{\tau^2 \epsilon^2}\right)$ to yield an $\epsilon$-optimal CVaR, where $H$ is the length of each episode, $A$ is the capacity of action space, and $d$ is the dimension of representations. Computational-wise, we design a novel discretized Least-Squares Value Iteration (LSVI) algorithm for the CVaR objective as the planning oracle and show that we can find the near-optimal policy in a polynomial running time with a Maximum Likelihood Estimation oracle. To our knowledge, this is the first provably efficient CVaR RL algorithm in low-rank MDPs.

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Yifei Zhou, Ayush Sekhari, Yuda Song, Wen Sun

Hybrid RL is the setting where an RL agent has access to both offline data and online data by interacting with the real-world environment. In this work, we propose a new hybrid RL algorithm that combines an on-policy actor-critic method with offline data. On-policy methods such as policy gradient and natural policy gradient (NPG) have shown to be more robust to model misspecification, though sometimes it may not be as sample efficient as methods that rely on off-policy learning. On the other hand, offline methods that depend on off-policy training often require strong assumptions in theory and are less stable to train in practice. Our new approach integrates a procedure of off-policy training on the offline data into an on-policy NPG framework. We show that our approach, in theory, can obtain a best-of-both-worlds type of result -- it achieves the state-of-art theoretical guarantees of offline RL when offline RL-specific assumptions hold, while at the same time maintaining the theoretical guarantees of on-policy NPG regardless of the offline RL assumptions' validity. Experimentally, in challenging rich-observation environments, we show that our approach outperforms a state-of-the-art hybrid RL baseline which only relies on off-policy policy optimization, demonstrating the empirical benefit of combining on-policy and off-policy learning. Our code is publicly available at https://github.com/YifeiZhou02/HNPG.

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Katie Z Luo, Zhenzhen Liu, Xiangyu Chen, Yurong You, Sagie Benaim, Cheng Perng Phoo, Mark Campbell, Wen Sun, Bharath Hariharan, Kilian Q. Weinberger

Recent advances in machine learning have shown that Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF) can improve machine learning models and align them with human preferences. Although very successful for Large Language Models (LLMs), these advancements have not had a comparable impact in research for autonomous vehicles -- where alignment with human expectations can be imperative. In this paper, we propose to adapt similar RL-based methods to unsupervised object discovery, i.e. learning to detect objects from LiDAR points without any training labels. Instead of labels, we use simple heuristics to mimic human feedback. More explicitly, we combine multiple heuristics into a simple reward function that positively correlates its score with bounding box accuracy, i.e., boxes containing objects are scored higher than those without. We start from the detector's own predictions to explore the space and reinforce boxes with high rewards through gradient updates. Empirically, we demonstrate that our approach is not only more accurate, but also orders of magnitudes faster to train compared to prior works on object discovery.

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Princewill Okoroafor, Robert Kleinberg, Wen Sun

Predictive models in ML need to be trustworthy and reliable, which often at the very least means outputting calibrated probabilities. This can be particularly difficult to guarantee in the online prediction setting when the outcome sequence can be generated adversarially. In this paper we introduce a technique using Blackwell's approachability theorem for taking an online predictive model which might not be calibrated and transforming its predictions to calibrated predictions without much increase to the loss of the original model. Our proposed algorithm achieves calibration and accuracy at a faster rate than existing techniques arXiv:1607.03594 and is the first algorithm to offer a flexible tradeoff between calibration error and accuracy in the online setting. We demonstrate this by characterizing the space of jointly achievable calibration and regret using our technique.

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Runzhe Wu, Wen Sun

Reinforcement Learning algorithms that learn from human feedback (RLHF) need to be efficient in terms of statistical complexity, computational complexity, and query complexity. In this work, we consider the RLHF setting where the feedback is given in the format of preferences over pairs of trajectories. In the linear MDP model, by using randomization in algorithm design, we present an algorithm that is sample efficient (i.e., has near-optimal worst-case regret bounds) and has polynomial running time (i.e., computational complexity is polynomial with respect to relevant parameters). Our algorithm further minimizes the query complexity through a novel randomized active learning procedure. In particular, our algorithm demonstrates a near-optimal tradeoff between the regret bound and the query complexity. To extend the results to more general nonlinear function approximation, we design a model-based randomized algorithm inspired by the idea of Thompson sampling. Our algorithm minimizes Bayesian regret bound and query complexity, again achieving a near-optimal tradeoff between these two quantities. Computation-wise, similar to the prior Thompson sampling algorithms under the regular RL setting, the main computation primitives of our algorithm are Bayesian supervised learning oracles which have been heavily investigated on the empirical side when applying Thompson sampling algorithms to RL benchmark problems.

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Yijia Dai, Wen Sun

Reinforcement learning (RL) in recommendation systems offers the potential to optimize recommendations for long-term user engagement. However, the environment often involves large state and action spaces, which makes it hard to efficiently learn and explore. In this work, we propose a sample-efficient representation learning algorithm, using the standard slate recommendation setup, to treat this as an online RL problem with low-rank Markov decision processes (MDPs). We also construct the recommender simulation environment with the proposed setup and sampling method.

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Ayush Sekhari, Karthik Sridharan, Wen Sun, Runzhe Wu

We consider the problem of contextual bandits and imitation learning, where the learner lacks direct knowledge of the executed action's reward. Instead, the learner can actively query an expert at each round to compare two actions and receive noisy preference feedback. The learner's objective is two-fold: to minimize the regret associated with the executed actions, while simultaneously, minimizing the number of comparison queries made to the expert. In this paper, we assume that the learner has access to a function class that can represent the expert's preference model under appropriate link functions, and provide an algorithm that leverages an online regression oracle with respect to this function class for choosing its actions and deciding when to query. For the contextual bandit setting, our algorithm achieves a regret bound that combines the best of both worlds, scaling as $O(\min\{\sqrt{T}, d/\Delta\})$, where $T$ represents the number of interactions, $d$ represents the eluder dimension of the function class, and $\Delta$ represents the minimum preference of the optimal action over any suboptimal action under all contexts. Our algorithm does not require the knowledge of $\Delta$, and the obtained regret bound is comparable to what can be achieved in the standard contextual bandits setting where the learner observes reward signals at each round. Additionally, our algorithm makes only $O(\min\{T, d^2/\Delta^2\})$ queries to the expert. We then extend our algorithm to the imitation learning setting, where the learning agent engages with an unknown environment in episodes of length $H$ each, and provide similar guarantees for regret and query complexity. Interestingly, our algorithm for imitation learning can even learn to outperform the underlying expert, when it is suboptimal, highlighting a practical benefit of preference-based feedback in imitation learning.

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Kaiwen Wang, Junxiong Wang, Yueying Li, Nathan Kallus, Immanuel Trummer, Wen Sun

In this paper, we present \textsc{JoinGym}, an efficient and lightweight query optimization environment for reinforcement learning (RL). Join order selection (JOS) is a classic NP-hard combinatorial optimization problem from database query optimization and can serve as a practical testbed for the generalization capabilities of RL algorithms. We describe how to formulate each of the left-deep and bushy variants of the JOS problem as a Markov Decision Process (MDP), and we provide an implementation adhering to the standard Gymnasium API. We highlight that our implementation \textsc{JoinGym} is completely based on offline traces of all possible joins, which enables RL practitioners to easily and quickly test their methods on a realistic data management problem without needing to setup any systems. Moreover, we also provide all possible join traces on $3300$ novel SQL queries generated from the IMDB dataset. Upon benchmarking popular RL algorithms, we find that at least one method can obtain near-optimal performance on train-set queries but their performance degrades by several orders of magnitude on test-set queries. This gap motivates further research for RL algorithms that generalize well in multi-task combinatorial optimization problems.

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