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$ $The classical theory of statistical estimation aims to estimate a parameter of interest under data generated from a fixed design ("offline estimation"), while the contemporary theory of online learning provides algorithms for estimation under adaptively chosen covariates ("online estimation"). Motivated by connections between estimation and interactive decision making, we ask: is it possible to convert offline estimation algorithms into online estimation algorithms in a black-box fashion? We investigate this question from an information-theoretic perspective by introducing a new framework, Oracle-Efficient Online Estimation (OEOE), where the learner can only interact with the data stream indirectly through a sequence of offline estimators produced by a black-box algorithm operating on the stream. Our main results settle the statistical and computational complexity of online estimation in this framework. $\bullet$ Statistical complexity. We show that information-theoretically, there exist algorithms that achieve near-optimal online estimation error via black-box offline estimation oracles, and give a nearly-tight characterization for minimax rates in the OEOE framework. $\bullet$ Computational complexity. We show that the guarantees above cannot be achieved in a computationally efficient fashion in general, but give a refined characterization for the special case of conditional density estimation: computationally efficient online estimation via black-box offline estimation is possible whenever it is possible via unrestricted algorithms. Finally, we apply our results to give offline oracle-efficient algorithms for interactive decision making.

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We consider contextual bandits with graph feedback, a class of interactive learning problems with richer structures than vanilla contextual bandits, where taking an action reveals the rewards for all neighboring actions in the feedback graph under all contexts. Unlike the multi-armed bandits setting where a growing literature has painted a near-complete understanding of graph feedback, much remains unexplored in the contextual bandits counterpart. In this paper, we make inroads into this inquiry by establishing a regret lower bound $\Omega(\sqrt{\beta_M(G) T})$, where $M$ is the number of contexts, $G$ is the feedback graph, and $\beta_M(G)$ is our proposed graph-theoretical quantity that characterizes the fundamental learning limit for this class of problems. Interestingly, $\beta_M(G)$ interpolates between $\alpha(G)$ (the independence number of the graph) and $\mathsf{m}(G)$ (the maximum acyclic subgraph (MAS) number of the graph) as the number of contexts $M$ varies. We also provide algorithms that achieve near-optimal regrets for important classes of context sequences and/or feedback graphs, such as transitively closed graphs that find applications in auctions and inventory control. In particular, with many contexts, our results show that the MAS number completely characterizes the statistical complexity for contextual bandits, as opposed to the independence number in multi-armed bandits.

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Feature alignment methods are used in many scientific disciplines for data pooling, annotation, and comparison. As an instance of a permutation learning problem, feature alignment presents significant statistical and computational challenges. In this work, we propose the covariance alignment model to study and compare various alignment methods and establish a minimax lower bound for covariance alignment that has a non-standard dimension scaling because of the presence of a nuisance parameter. This lower bound is in fact minimax optimal and is achieved by a natural quasi MLE. However, this estimator involves a search over all permutations which is computationally infeasible even when the problem has moderate size. To overcome this limitation, we show that the celebrated Gromov-Wasserstein algorithm from optimal transport which is more amenable to fast implementation even on large-scale problems is also minimax optimal. These results give the first statistical justification for the deployment of the Gromov-Wasserstein algorithm in practice.

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We consider repeated multi-unit auctions with uniform pricing, which are widely used in practice for allocating goods such as carbon licenses. In each round, $K$ identical units of a good are sold to a group of buyers that have valuations with diminishing marginal returns. The buyers submit bids for the units, and then a price $p$ is set per unit so that all the units are sold. We consider two variants of the auction, where the price is set to the $K$-th highest bid and $(K+1)$-st highest bid, respectively. We analyze the properties of this auction in both the offline and online settings. In the offline setting, we consider the problem that one player $i$ is facing: given access to a data set that contains the bids submitted by competitors in past auctions, find a bid vector that maximizes player $i$'s cumulative utility on the data set. We design a polynomial time algorithm for this problem, by showing it is equivalent to finding a maximum-weight path on a carefully constructed directed acyclic graph. In the online setting, the players run learning algorithms to update their bids as they participate in the auction over time. Based on our offline algorithm, we design efficient online learning algorithms for bidding. The algorithms have sublinear regret, under both full information and bandit feedback structures. We complement our online learning algorithms with regret lower bounds. Finally, we analyze the quality of the equilibria in the worst case through the lens of the core solution concept in the game among the bidders. We show that the $(K+1)$-st price format is susceptible to collusion among the bidders; meanwhile, the $K$-th price format does not have this issue.

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We consider the sequential decision-making problem where the mean outcome is a non-linear function of the chosen action. Compared with the linear model, two curious phenomena arise in non-linear models: first, in addition to the "learning phase" with a standard parametric rate for estimation or regret, there is an "burn-in period" with a fixed cost determined by the non-linear function; second, achieving the smallest burn-in cost requires new exploration algorithms. For a special family of non-linear functions named ridge functions in the literature, we derive upper and lower bounds on the optimal burn-in cost, and in addition, on the entire learning trajectory during the burn-in period via differential equations. In particular, a two-stage algorithm that first finds a good initial action and then treats the problem as locally linear is statistically optimal. In contrast, several classical algorithms, such as UCB and algorithms relying on regression oracles, are provably suboptimal.

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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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With the advent and increasing consolidation of e-commerce, digital advertising has very recently replaced traditional advertising as the main marketing force in the economy. In the past four years, a particularly important development in the digital advertising industry is the shift from second-price auctions to first-price auctions for online display ads. This shift immediately motivated the intellectually challenging question of how to bid in first-price auctions, because unlike in second-price auctions, bidding one's private value truthfully is no longer optimal. Following a series of recent works in this area, we consider a differentiated setup: we do not make any assumption about other bidders' maximum bid (i.e. it can be adversarial over time), and instead assume that we have access to a hint that serves as a prediction of other bidders' maximum bid, where the prediction is learned through some blackbox machine learning model. We consider two types of hints: one where a single point-prediction is available, and the other where a hint interval (representing a type of confidence region into which others' maximum bid falls) is available. We establish minimax optimal regret bounds for both cases and highlight the quantitatively different behavior between the two settings. We also provide improved regret bounds when the others' maximum bid exhibits the further structure of sparsity. Finally, we complement the theoretical results with demonstrations using real bidding data.

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In the infinite-armed bandit problem, each arm's average reward is sampled from an unknown distribution, and each arm can be sampled further to obtain noisy estimates of the average reward of that arm. Prior work focuses on identifying the best arm, i.e., estimating the maximum of the average reward distribution. We consider a general class of distribution functionals beyond the maximum, and propose unified meta algorithms for both the offline and online settings, achieving optimal sample complexities. We show that online estimation, where the learner can sequentially choose whether to sample a new or existing arm, offers no advantage over the offline setting for estimating the mean functional, but significantly reduces the sample complexity for other functionals such as the median, maximum, and trimmed mean. The matching lower bounds utilize several different Wasserstein distances. For the special case of median estimation, we identify a curious thresholding phenomenon on the indistinguishability between Gaussian convolutions with respect to the noise level, which may be of independent interest.

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In this paper, we study oracle-efficient algorithms for beyond worst-case analysis of online learning. We focus on two settings. First, the smoothed analysis setting of [RST11, HRS21] where an adversary is constrained to generating samples from distributions whose density is upper bounded by $1/\sigma$ times the uniform density. Second, the setting of $K$-hint transductive learning, where the learner is given access to $K$ hints per time step that are guaranteed to include the true instance. We give the first known oracle-efficient algorithms for both settings that depend only on the VC dimension of the class and parameters $\sigma$ and $K$ that capture the power of the adversary. {In particular, we achieve oracle-efficient regret bounds of $ O ( \sqrt{T d\sigma^{-1/2}} ) $} and $ O ( \sqrt{T d K } )$ respectively for these setting. For the smoothed analysis setting, our results give the first oracle-efficient algorithm for online learning with smoothed adversaries [HRS21]. This contrasts the computational separation between online learning with worst-case adversaries and offline learning established by [HK16]. Our algorithms also achieve improved bounds for worst-case setting with small domains. In particular, we give an oracle-efficient algorithm with regret of $O ( \sqrt{T(d \vert{\mathcal{X}})\vert^{1/2} })$, which is a refinement of the earlier $O ( \sqrt{T\vert{\mathcal{X}}\vert })$ bound by [DS16].

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Given $n$ i.i.d. samples drawn from an unknown distribution $P$, when is it possible to produce a larger set of $n+m$ samples which cannot be distinguished from $n+m$ i.i.d. samples drawn from $P$? (Axelrod et al. 2019) formalized this question as the sample amplification problem, and gave optimal amplification procedures for discrete distributions and Gaussian location models. However, these procedures and associated lower bounds are tailored to the specific distribution classes, and a general statistical understanding of sample amplification is still largely missing. In this work, we place the sample amplification problem on a firm statistical foundation by deriving generally applicable amplification procedures, lower bound techniques and connections to existing statistical notions. Our techniques apply to a large class of distributions including the exponential family, and establish a rigorous connection between sample amplification and distribution learning.

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