Learning Theory 1

Moderator : Tanuj Sur

Wed 21 Jul 5 a.m. PDT — 6 a.m. PDT


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Wed 21 July 5:00 - 5:20 PDT

Near Optimal Reward-Free Reinforcement Learning

Zhang Zihan · Simon Du · Xiangyang Ji

We study the reward-free reinforcement learning framework, which is particularly suitable for batch reinforcement learning and scenarios where one needs policies for multiple reward functions. This framework has two phases: in the exploration phase, the agent collects trajectories by interacting with the environment without using any reward signal; in the planning phase, the agent needs to return a near-optimal policy for arbitrary reward functions. %This framework is suitable for batch RL setting and the setting where there are multiple reward functions of interes We give a new efficient algorithm, \textbf{S}taged \textbf{S}ampling + \textbf{T}runcated \textbf{P}lanning (\algoname), which interacts with the environment at most $O\left( \frac{S^2A}{\epsilon^2}\poly\log\left(\frac{SAH}{\epsilon}\right) \right)$ episodes in the exploration phase, and guarantees to output a near-optimal policy for arbitrary reward functions in the planning phase, where $S$ is the size of state space, $A$ is the size of action space, $H$ is the planning horizon, and $\epsilon$ is the target accuracy relative to the total reward. Notably, our sample complexity scales only \emph{logarithmically} with $H$, in contrast to all existing results which scale \emph{polynomially} with $H$. Furthermore, this bound matches the minimax lower bound $\Omega\left(\frac{S^2A}{\epsilon^2}\right)$ up to logarithmic factors. Our results rely on three new techniques : 1) A new sufficient condition for the dataset to plan for an $\epsilon$-suboptimal policy % for any totally bounded reward function ; 2) A new way to plan efficiently under the proposed condition using soft-truncated planning; 3) Constructing extended MDP to maximize the truncated accumulative rewards efficiently.

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Wed 21 July 5:20 - 5:25 PDT

Batch Value-function Approximation with Only Realizability

Tengyang Xie · Nan Jiang

We make progress in a long-standing problem of batch reinforcement learning (RL): learning Q* from an exploratory and polynomial-sized dataset, using a realizable and otherwise arbitrary function class. In fact, all existing algorithms demand function-approximation assumptions stronger than realizability, and the mounting negative evidence has led to a conjecture that sample-efficient learning is impossible in this setting (Chen & Jiang, 2019). Our algorithm, BVFT, breaks the hardness conjecture (albeit under a stronger notion of exploratory data) via a tournament procedure that reduces the learning problem to pairwise comparison, and solves the latter with the help of a state-action-space partition constructed from the compared functions. We also discuss how BVFT can be applied to model selection among other extensions and open problems.

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Wed 21 July 5:25 - 5:30 PDT

Adversarial Combinatorial Bandits with General Non-linear Reward Functions

Yanjun Han · Yining Wang · Xi Chen

In this paper we study the adversarial combinatorial bandit with a known non-linear reward function, extending existing work on adversarial linear combinatorial bandit. {The adversarial combinatorial bandit with general non-linear reward is an important open problem in bandit literature, and it is still unclear whether there is a significant gap from the case of linear reward, stochastic bandit, or semi-bandit feedback.} We show that, with $N$ arms and subsets of $K$ arms being chosen at each of $T$ time periods, the minimax optimal regret is $\widetilde\Theta_{d}(\sqrt{N^d T})$ if the reward function is a $d$-degree polynomial with $d< K$, and $\Theta_K(\sqrt{N^K T})$ if the reward function is not a low-degree polynomial. {Both bounds are significantly different from the bound $O(\sqrt{\mathrm{poly}(N,K)T})$ for the linear case, which suggests that there is a fundamental gap between the linear and non-linear reward structures.} Our result also finds applications to adversarial assortment optimization problem in online recommendation. We show that in the worst-case of adversarial assortment problem, the optimal algorithm must treat each individual $\binom{N}{K}$ assortment as independent.

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Wed 21 July 5:30 - 5:35 PDT

Model-Free and Model-Based Policy Evaluation when Causality is Uncertain

David Bruns-Smith

When decision-makers can directly intervene, policy evaluation algorithms give valid causal estimates. In off-policy evaluation (OPE), there may exist unobserved variables that both impact the dynamics and are used by the unknown behavior policy. These ``confounders'' will introduce spurious correlations and naive estimates for a new policy will be biased. We develop worst-case bounds to assess sensitivity to these unobserved confounders in finite horizons when confounders are drawn iid each period. We demonstrate that a model-based approach with robust MDPs gives sharper lower bounds by exploiting domain knowledge about the dynamics. Finally, we show that when unobserved confounders are persistent over time, OPE is far more difficult and existing techniques produce extremely conservative bounds.

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Wed 21 July 5:35 - 5:40 PDT

Bootstrapping Fitted Q-Evaluation for Off-Policy Inference

Botao Hao · Xiang Ji · Yaqi Duan · Hao Lu · Csaba Szepesvari · Mengdi Wang

Bootstrapping provides a flexible and effective approach for assessing the quality of batch reinforcement learning, yet its theoretical properties are poorly understood. In this paper, we study the use of bootstrapping in off-policy evaluation (OPE), and in particular, we focus on the fitted Q-evaluation (FQE) that is known to be minimax-optimal in the tabular and linear-model cases. We propose a bootstrapping FQE method for inferring the distribution of the policy evaluation error and show that this method is asymptotically efficient and distributionally consistent for off-policy statistical inference. To overcome the computation limit of bootstrapping, we further adapt a subsampling procedure that improves the runtime by an order of magnitude. We numerically evaluate the bootrapping method in classical RL environments for confidence interval estimation, estimating the variance of off-policy evaluator, and estimating the correlation between multiple off-policy evaluators.

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Wed 21 July 5:40 - 5:45 PDT

On Learnability via Gradient Method for Two-Layer ReLU Neural Networks in Teacher-Student Setting

Shunta Akiyama · Taiji Suzuki

Deep learning empirically achieves high performance in many applications, but its training dynamics has not been fully understood theoretically. In this paper, we explore theoretical analysis on training two-layer ReLU neural networks in a teacher-student regression model, in which a student network learns an unknown teacher network through its outputs. We show that with a specific regularization and sufficient over-parameterization, the student network can identify the parameters of the teacher network with high probability via gradient descent with a norm dependent stepsize even though the objective function is highly non-convex. The key theoretical tool is the measure representation of the neural networks and a novel application of a dual certificate argument for sparse estimation on a measure space. We analyze the global minima and global convergence property in the measure space.

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Wed 21 July 5:45 - 5:50 PDT

Spectral vertex sparsifiers and pair-wise spanners over distributed graphs

Chunjiang Zhu · Qinqing Liu · Jinbo Bi

Graph sparsification is a powerful tool to approximate an arbitrary graph and has been used in machine learning over graphs. As real-world networks are becoming very large and naturally distributed, distributed graph sparsification has drawn considerable attention. In this work, we design communication-efficient distributed algorithms for constructing spectral vertex sparsifiers, which closely preserve effective resistance distances on a subset of vertices of interest in the original graphs, under the well-established message passing communication model. We prove that the communication cost approximates the lower bound with only a small gap. We further provide algorithms for constructing pair-wise spanners which approximate the shortest distances between each pair of vertices in a target set, instead of all pairs, and incur communication costs that are much smaller than those of existing algorithms in the message passing model. Experiments are performed to validate the communication efficiency of the proposed algorithms under the guarantee that the constructed sparsifiers have a good approximation quality.

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Wed 21 July 5:50 - 5:55 PDT