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Ranking algorithms are fundamental to various online platforms across e-commerce sites to content streaming services. Our research addresses the challenge of adaptively ranking items from a candidate pool for heterogeneous users, a key component in personalizing user experience. We develop a user response model that considers diverse user preferences and the varying effects of item positions, aiming to optimize overall user satisfaction with the ranked list. We frame this problem within a contextual bandits framework, with each ranked list as an action. Our approach incorporates an upper confidence bound to adjust predicted user satisfaction scores and selects the ranking action that maximizes these adjusted scores, efficiently solved via maximum weight imperfect matching. We demonstrate that our algorithm achieves a cumulative regret bound of $O(d\sqrt{NKT})$ for ranking $K$ out of $N$ items in a $d$-dimensional context space over $T$ rounds, under the assumption that user responses follow a generalized linear model. This regret alleviates dependence on the ambient action space, whose cardinality grows exponentially with $N$ and $K$ (thus rendering direct application of existing adaptive learning algorithms -- such as UCB or Thompson sampling -- infeasible). Experiments conducted on both simulated and real-world datasets demonstrate our algorithm outperforms the baseline.

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The development of open benchmarking platforms could greatly accelerate the adoption of AI agents in retail. This paper presents comprehensive simulations of customer shopping behaviors for the purpose of benchmarking reinforcement learning (RL) agents that optimize coupon targeting. The difficulty of this learning problem is largely driven by the sparsity of customer purchase events. We trained agents using offline batch data comprising summarized customer purchase histories to help mitigate this effect. Our experiments revealed that contextual bandit and deep RL methods that are less prone to over-fitting the sparse reward distributions significantly outperform static policies. This study offers a practical framework for simulating AI agents that optimize the entire retail customer journey. It aims to inspire the further development of simulation tools for retail AI systems.

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Shuffling gradient methods, which are also known as stochastic gradient descent (SGD) without replacement, are widely implemented in practice, particularly including three popular algorithms: Random Reshuffle (RR), Shuffle Once (SO), and Incremental Gradient (IG). Compared to the empirical success, the theoretical guarantee of shuffling gradient methods was not well-understanding for a long time. Until recently, the convergence rates had just been established for the average iterate for convex functions and the last iterate for strongly convex problems (using squared distance as the metric). However, when using the function value gap as the convergence criterion, existing theories cannot interpret the good performance of the last iterate in different settings (e.g., constrained optimization). To bridge this gap between practice and theory, we prove last-iterate convergence rates for shuffling gradient methods with respect to the objective value even without strong convexity. Our new results either (nearly) match the existing last-iterate lower bounds or are as fast as the previous best upper bounds for the average iterate.

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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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In the past several years, the convergence of the last iterate of the Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD) algorithm has triggered people's interest due to its good performance in practice but lack of theoretical understanding. For Lipschitz and convex functions, different works have established the optimal $O(\log(1/\delta)\log T/\sqrt{T})$ or $O(\sqrt{\log(1/\delta)/T})$ high-probability convergence rates for the final iterate, where $T$ is the time horizon and $\delta$ is the failure probability. However, to prove these bounds, all the existing works are limited to compact domains or require almost surely bounded noises. It is natural to ask whether the last iterate of SGD can still guarantee the optimal convergence rate but without these two restrictive assumptions. Besides this important question, there are still lots of theoretical problems lacking an answer. For example, compared with the last iterate convergence of SGD for non-smooth problems, only few results for smooth optimization have yet been developed. Additionally, the existing results are all limited to a non-composite objective and the standard Euclidean norm. It still remains unclear whether the last-iterate convergence can be provably extended to wider composite optimization and non-Euclidean norms. In this work, to address the issues mentioned above, we revisit the last-iterate convergence of stochastic gradient methods and provide the first unified way to prove the convergence rates both in expectation and in high probability to accommodate general domains, composite objectives, non-Euclidean norms, Lipschitz conditions, smoothness and (strong) convexity simultaneously. Additionally, we extend our analysis to obtain the last-iterate convergence under heavy-tailed noises.

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Motivated by the need for a robust policy in the face of environment shifts between training and the deployment, we contribute to the theoretical foundation of distributionally robust reinforcement learning (DRRL). This is accomplished through a comprehensive modeling framework centered around distributionally robust Markov decision processes (DRMDPs). This framework obliges the decision maker to choose an optimal policy under the worst-case distributional shift orchestrated by an adversary. By unifying and extending existing formulations, we rigorously construct DRMDPs that embraces various modeling attributes for both the decision maker and the adversary. These attributes include adaptability granularity, exploring history-dependent, Markov, and Markov time-homogeneous decision maker and adversary dynamics. Additionally, we delve into the flexibility of shifts induced by the adversary, examining SA and S-rectangularity. Within this DRMDP framework, we investigate conditions for the existence or absence of the dynamic programming principle (DPP). From an algorithmic standpoint, the existence of DPP holds significant implications, as the vast majority of existing data and computationally efficiency RL algorithms are reliant on the DPP. To study its existence, we comprehensively examine combinations of controller and adversary attributes, providing streamlined proofs grounded in a unified methodology. We also offer counterexamples for settings in which a DPP with full generality is absent.

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Online gradient descent (OGD) is well known to be doubly optimal under strong convexity or monotonicity assumptions: (1) in the single-agent setting, it achieves an optimal regret of $\Theta(\log T)$ for strongly convex cost functions; and (2) in the multi-agent setting of strongly monotone games, with each agent employing OGD, we obtain last-iterate convergence of the joint action to a unique Nash equilibrium at an optimal rate of $\Theta(\frac{1}{T})$. While these finite-time guarantees highlight its merits, OGD has the drawback that it requires knowing the strong convexity/monotonicity parameters. In this paper, we design a fully adaptive OGD algorithm, \textsf{AdaOGD}, that does not require a priori knowledge of these parameters. In the single-agent setting, our algorithm achieves $O(\log^2(T))$ regret under strong convexity, which is optimal up to a log factor. Further, if each agent employs \textsf{AdaOGD} in strongly monotone games, the joint action converges in a last-iterate sense to a unique Nash equilibrium at a rate of $O(\frac{\log^3 T}{T})$, again optimal up to log factors. We illustrate our algorithms in a learning version of the classical newsvendor problem, where due to lost sales, only (noisy) gradient feedback can be observed. Our results immediately yield the first feasible and near-optimal algorithm for both the single-retailer and multi-retailer settings. We also extend our results to the more general setting of exp-concave cost functions and games, using the online Newton step (ONS) algorithm.

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Dynamic decision making under distributional shifts is of fundamental interest in theory and applications of reinforcement learning: The distribution of the environment on which the data is collected can differ from that of the environment on which the model is deployed. This paper presents two novel model-free algorithms, namely the distributionally robust Q-learning and its variance-reduced counterpart, that can effectively learn a robust policy despite distributional shifts. These algorithms are designed to efficiently approximate the $q$-function of an infinite-horizon $\gamma$-discounted robust Markov decision process with Kullback-Leibler uncertainty set to an entry-wise $\epsilon$-degree of precision. Further, the variance-reduced distributionally robust Q-learning combines the synchronous Q-learning with variance-reduction techniques to enhance its performance. Consequently, we establish that it attains a minmax sample complexity upper bound of $\tilde O(|S||A|(1-\gamma)^{-4}\epsilon^{-2})$, where $S$ and $A$ denote the state and action spaces. This is the first complexity result that is independent of the uncertainty size $\delta$, thereby providing new complexity theoretic insights. Additionally, a series of numerical experiments confirm the theoretical findings and the efficiency of the algorithms in handling distributional shifts.

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Recently, several studies consider the stochastic optimization problem but in a heavy-tailed noise regime, i.e., the difference between the stochastic gradient and the true gradient is assumed to have a finite $p$-th moment (say being upper bounded by $\sigma^{p}$ for some $\sigma\geq0$) where $p\in(1,2]$, which not only generalizes the traditional finite variance assumption ($p=2$) but also has been observed in practice for several different tasks. Under this challenging assumption, lots of new progress has been made for either convex or nonconvex problems, however, most of which only consider smooth objectives. In contrast, people have not fully explored and well understood this problem when functions are nonsmooth. This paper aims to fill this crucial gap by providing a comprehensive analysis of stochastic nonsmooth convex optimization with heavy-tailed noises. We revisit a simple clipping-based algorithm, whereas, which is only proved to converge in expectation but under the additional strong convexity assumption. Under appropriate choices of parameters, for both convex and strongly convex functions, we not only establish the first high-probability rates but also give refined in-expectation bounds compared with existing works. Remarkably, all of our results are optimal (or nearly optimal up to logarithmic factors) with respect to the time horizon $T$ even when $T$ is unknown in advance. Additionally, we show how to make the algorithm parameter-free with respect to $\sigma$, in other words, the algorithm can still guarantee convergence without any prior knowledge of $\sigma$.

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We consider a reinforcement learning setting in which the deployment environment is different from the training environment. Applying a robust Markov decision processes formulation, we extend the distributionally robust $Q$-learning framework studied in Liu et al. [2022]. Further, we improve the design and analysis of their multi-level Monte Carlo estimator. Assuming access to a simulator, we prove that the worst-case expected sample complexity of our algorithm to learn the optimal robust $Q$-function within an $\epsilon$ error in the sup norm is upper bounded by $\tilde O(|S||A|(1-\gamma)^{-5}\epsilon^{-2}p_{\wedge}^{-6}\delta^{-4})$, where $\gamma$ is the discount rate, $p_{\wedge}$ is the non-zero minimal support probability of the transition kernels and $\delta$ is the uncertainty size. This is the first sample complexity result for the model-free robust RL problem. Simulation studies further validate our theoretical results.

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