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Sparsity in the Partially Controllable LQR
Yonathan Efroni · Sham Kakade · Akshay Krishnamurthy · Cyril Zhang

A fundamental concept in control theory is that of controllability, where any system state can be reached through an appropriate choice of control inputs. Indeed, a large body of classical and modern approaches are designed for controllable linear dynamical systems. However, in practice, we often encounter systems in which a large set of state variables evolve exogenously and independently of the control inputs; such systems are only \emph{partially controllable}. The focus of this work is on a large class of partially controllable linear dynamical system, specified by an underlying sparsity pattern. Our main results establish structural conditions and finite-sample guarantees for learning to control such systems. In particular, our structural results characterize those state variables which are irrelevant for optimal control, an analysis which departs from classical control techniques. Our algorithmic results adapt techniques from high-dimensional statistics---specifically soft-thresholding and semiparametric least-squares---to exploit the underlying sparsity pattern in order to obtain finite-sample guarantees that significantly improve over those based on certainty-equivalence. We also corroborate these theoretical improvements over certainty-equivalent control through a simulation study.

Author Information

Yonathan Efroni (Microsoft Research, New York)
Sham Kakade (University of Washington)

Sham Kakade is a Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at Harvard University and a co-director of the recently announced Kempner Institute. He works on the mathematical foundations of machine learning and AI. Sham's thesis helped in laying the statistical foundations of reinforcement learning. With his collaborators, his additional contributions include: one of the first provably efficient policy search methods, Conservative Policy Iteration, for reinforcement learning; developing the mathematical foundations for the widely used linear bandit models and the Gaussian process bandit models; the tensor and spectral methodologies for provable estimation of latent variable models; the first sharp analysis of the perturbed gradient descent algorithm, along with the design and analysis of numerous other convex and non-convex algorithms. He is the recipient of the ICML Test of Time Award (2020), the IBM Pat Goldberg best paper award (in 2007), INFORMS Revenue Management and Pricing Prize (2014). He has been program chair for COLT 2011. Sham was an undergraduate at Caltech, where he studied physics and worked under the guidance of John Preskill in quantum computing. He then completed his Ph.D. in computational neuroscience at the Gatsby Unit at University College London, under the supervision of Peter Dayan. He was a postdoc at the Dept. of Computer Science, University of Pennsylvania , where he broadened his studies to include computational game theory and economics from the guidance of Michael Kearns. Sham has been a Principal Research Scientist at Microsoft Research, New England, an associate professor at the Department of Statistics, Wharton, UPenn, and an assistant professor at the Toyota Technological Institute at Chicago.

Akshay Krishnamurthy (Microsoft Research)
Cyril Zhang (Microsoft Research)

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