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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: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:We study the infinite-horizon restless bandit problem with the average reward criterion, under both discrete-time and continuous-time settings. A fundamental question is how to design computationally efficient policies that achieve a diminishing optimality gap as the number of arms, $N$, grows large. Existing results on asymptotical optimality all rely on the uniform global attractor property (UGAP), a complex and challenging-to-verify assumption. In this paper, we propose a general, simulation-based framework that converts any single-armed policy into a policy for the original $N$-armed problem. This is accomplished by simulating the single-armed policy on each arm and carefully steering the real state towards the simulated state. Our framework can be instantiated to produce a policy with an $O(1/\sqrt{N})$ optimality gap. In the discrete-time setting, our result holds under a simpler synchronization assumption, which covers some problem instances that do not satisfy UGAP. More notably, in the continuous-time setting, our result does not require any additional assumptions beyond the standard unichain condition. In both settings, we establish the first asymptotic optimality result that does not require UGAP.

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