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Zakaria Mhammedi, Adam Block, Dylan J. Foster, Alexander Rakhlin

A major challenge in reinforcement learning is to develop practical, sample-efficient algorithms for exploration in high-dimensional domains where generalization and function approximation is required. Low-Rank Markov Decision Processes -- where transition probabilities admit a low-rank factorization based on an unknown feature embedding -- offer a simple, yet expressive framework for RL with function approximation, but existing algorithms are either (1) computationally intractable, or (2) reliant upon restrictive statistical assumptions such as latent variable structure, access to model-based function approximation, or reachability. In this work, we propose the first provably sample-efficient algorithm for exploration in Low-Rank MDPs that is both computationally efficient and model-free, allowing for general function approximation and requiring no additional structural assumptions. Our algorithm, VoX, uses the notion of a generalized optimal design for the feature embedding as an efficiently computable basis for exploration, performing efficient optimal design computation by interleaving representation learning and policy optimization. Our analysis -- which is appealingly simple and modular -- carefully combines several techniques, including a new reduction from optimal design computation to policy optimization based on the Frank-Wolfe method, and an improved analysis of a certain minimax representation learning objective found in prior work.

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Khashayar Gatmiry, Zakaria Mhammedi

This paper presents new projection-free algorithms for Online Convex Optimization (OCO) over a convex domain $\mathcal{K} \subset \mathbb{R}^d$. Classical OCO algorithms (such as Online Gradient Descent) typically need to perform Euclidean projections onto the convex set $\cK$ to ensure feasibility of their iterates. Alternative algorithms, such as those based on the Frank-Wolfe method, swap potentially-expensive Euclidean projections onto $\mathcal{K}$ for linear optimization over $\mathcal{K}$. However, such algorithms have a sub-optimal regret in OCO compared to projection-based algorithms. In this paper, we look at a third type of algorithms that output approximate Newton iterates using a self-concordant barrier for the set of interest. The use of a self-concordant barrier automatically ensures feasibility without the need for projections. However, the computation of the Newton iterates requires a matrix inverse, which can still be expensive. As our main contribution, we show how the stability of the Newton iterates can be leveraged to compute the inverse Hessian only a vanishing fraction of the rounds, leading to a new efficient projection-free OCO algorithm with a state-of-the-art regret bound.

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Zakaria Mhammedi, Dylan J. Foster, Alexander Rakhlin

We study the design of sample-efficient algorithms for reinforcement learning in the presence of rich, high-dimensional observations, formalized via the Block MDP problem. Existing algorithms suffer from either 1) computational intractability, 2) strong statistical assumptions that are not necessarily satisfied in practice, or 3) suboptimal sample complexity. We address these issues by providing the first computationally efficient algorithm that attains rate-optimal sample complexity with respect to the desired accuracy level, with minimal statistical assumptions. Our algorithm, MusIK, combines systematic exploration with representation learning based on multi-step inverse kinematics, a learning objective in which the aim is to predict the learner's own action from the current observation and observations in the (potentially distant) future. MusIK is simple and flexible, and can efficiently take advantage of general-purpose function approximation. Our analysis leverages several new techniques tailored to non-optimistic exploration algorithms, which we anticipate will find broader use.

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Zakaria Mhammedi, Khashayar Gatmiry

The aim of this paper is to design computationally-efficient and optimal algorithms for the online and stochastic exp-concave optimization settings. Typical algorithms for these settings, such as the Online Newton Step (ONS), can guarantee a $O(d\ln T)$ bound on their regret after $T$ rounds, where $d$ is the dimension of the feasible set. However, such algorithms perform so-called generalized projections whenever their iterates step outside the feasible set. Such generalized projections require $\Omega(d^3)$ arithmetic operations even for simple sets such a Euclidean ball, making the total runtime of ONS of order $d^3 T$ after $T$ rounds, in the worst-case. In this paper, we side-step generalized projections by using a self-concordant barrier as a regularizer to compute the Newton steps. This ensures that the iterates are always within the feasible set without requiring projections. This approach still requires the computation of the inverse of the Hessian of the barrier at every step. However, using the stability properties of the Newton steps, we show that the inverse of the Hessians can be efficiently approximated via Taylor expansions for most rounds, resulting in a $O(d^2 T +d^\omega \sqrt{T})$ total computational complexity, where $\omega$ is the exponent of matrix multiplication. In the stochastic setting, we show that this translates into a $O(d^3/\epsilon)$ computational complexity for finding an $\epsilon$-suboptimal point, answering an open question by Koren 2013. We first show these new results for the simple case where the feasible set is a Euclidean ball. Then, to move to general convex set, we use a reduction to Online Convex Optimization over the Euclidean ball. Our final algorithm can be viewed as a more efficient version of ONS.

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Kwangjun Ahn, Zakaria Mhammedi, Horia Mania, Zhang-Wei Hong, Ali Jadbabaie

In this paper, we leverage the rapid advances in imitation learning, a topic of intense recent focus in the Reinforcement Learning (RL) literature, to develop new sample complexity results and performance guarantees for data-driven Model Predictive Control (MPC) for constrained linear systems. In its simplest form, imitation learning is an approach that tries to learn an expert policy by querying samples from an expert. Recent approaches to data-driven MPC have used the simplest form of imitation learning known as behavior cloning to learn controllers that mimic the performance of MPC by online sampling of the trajectories of the closed-loop MPC system. Behavior cloning, however, is a method that is known to be data inefficient and suffer from distribution shifts. As an alternative, we develop a variant of the forward training algorithm which is an on-policy imitation learning method proposed by Ross et al. (2010). Our algorithm uses the structure of constrained linear MPC, and our analysis uses the properties of the explicit MPC solution to theoretically bound the number of online MPC trajectories needed to achieve optimal performance. We validate our results through simulations and show that the forward training algorithm is indeed superior to behavior cloning when applied to MPC.

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Zakaria Mhammedi

In this paper, we develop new efficient projection-free algorithms for Online Convex Optimization (OCO). Online Gradient Descent (OGD) is an example of a classical OCO algorithm that guarantees the optimal $O(\sqrt{T})$ regret bound. However, OGD and other projection-based OCO algorithms need to perform a Euclidean projection onto the feasible set $\mathcal{C}\subset \mathbb{R}^d$ whenever their iterates step outside $\mathcal{C}$. For various sets of interests, this projection step can be computationally costly, especially when the ambient dimension is large. This has motivated the development of projection-free OCO algorithms that swap Euclidean projections for often much cheaper operations such as Linear Optimization (LO). However, state-of-the-art LO-based algorithms only achieve a suboptimal $O(T^{3/4})$ regret for general OCO. In this paper, we leverage recent results in parameter-free Online Learning, and develop an OCO algorithm that makes two calls to an LO Oracle per round and achieves the near-optimal $\widetilde{O}(\sqrt{T})$ regret whenever the feasible set is strongly convex. We also present an algorithm for general convex sets that makes $\widetilde O(d)$ expected number of calls to an LO Oracle per round and guarantees a $\widetilde O(T^{2/3})$ regret, improving on the previous best $O(T^{3/4})$. We achieve the latter by approximating any convex set $\mathcal{C}$ by a strongly convex one, where LO can be performed using $\widetilde {O}(d)$ expected number of calls to an LO Oracle for $\mathcal{C}$.

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Zakaria Mhammedi, Alexander Rakhlin

We revisit the classic online portfolio selection problem, where at each round a learner selects a distribution over a set of portfolios to allocate its wealth. It is known that for this problem a logarithmic regret with respect to Cover's loss is achievable using the Universal Portfolio Selection algorithm, for example. However, all existing algorithms that achieve a logarithmic regret for this problem have per-round time and space complexities that scale polynomially with the total number of rounds, making them impractical. In this paper, we build on the recent work by Haipeng et al. 2018 and present the first practical online portfolio selection algorithm with a logarithmic regret and whose per-round time and space complexities depend only logarithmically on the horizon. Behind our approach are two key technical novelties of independent interest. We first show that the Damped Online Newton steps can approximate mirror descent iterates well, even when dealing with time-varying regularizers. Second, we present a new meta-algorithm that achieves an adaptive logarithmic regret (i.e. a logarithmic regret on any sub-interval) for mixable losses.

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Zakaria Mhammedi

In constrained convex optimization, existing methods based on the ellipsoid or cutting plane method do not scale well with the dimension of the ambient space. Alternative approaches such as Projected Gradient Descent only provide a computational benefit for simple convex sets such as Euclidean balls, where Euclidean projections can be performed efficiently. For other sets, the cost of the projections can be too high. To circumvent these issues, alternative methods based on the famous Frank-Wolfe algorithm have been studied and used. Such methods use a Linear Optimization Oracle at each iteration instead of Euclidean projections; the former can often be performed efficiently. Such methods have also been extended to the online and stochastic optimization settings. However, the Frank-Wolfe algorithm and its variants do not achieve the optimal performance, in terms of regret or rate, for general convex sets. What is more, the Linear Optimization Oracle they use can still be computationally expensive in some cases. In this paper, we move away from Frank-Wolfe style algorithms and present a new reduction that turns any algorithm A defined on a Euclidean ball (where projections are cheap) to an algorithm on a constrained set C contained within the ball, without sacrificing the performance of the original algorithm A by much. Our reduction requires O(T log T) calls to a Membership Oracle on C after T rounds, and no linear optimization on C is needed. Using our reduction, we recover optimal regret bounds [resp. rates], in terms of the number of iterations, in online [resp. stochastic] convex optimization. Our guarantees are also useful in the offline convex optimization setting when the dimension of the ambient space is large.

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Zakaria Mhammedi, Hisham Husain

Acquisition of data is a difficult task in many applications of machine learning, and it is only natural that one hopes and expects the populating risk to decrease (better performance) monotonically with increasing data points. It turns out, somewhat surprisingly, that this is not the case even for the most standard algorithms such as empirical risk minimization. Non-monotonic behaviour of the risk and instability in training have manifested and appeared in the popular deep learning paradigm under the description of double descent. These problems highlight bewilderment in our understanding of learning algorithms and generalization. It is, therefore, crucial to pursue this concern and provide a characterization of such behaviour. In this paper, we derive the first consistent and risk-monotonic algorithms for a general statistical learning setting under weak assumptions, consequently resolving an open problem (Viering et al. 2019) on how to avoid non-monotonic behaviour of risk curves. Our work makes a significant contribution to the topic of risk-monotonicity, which may be key in resolving empirical phenomena such as double descent.

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