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Off-Policy Evaluation for Large Action Spaces via Embeddings

Yuta Saito · Thorsten Joachims

Hall E #1025

Keywords: [ MISC: Online Learning, Active Learning and Bandits ] [ MISC: Causality ] [ RL: Batch/Offline ]


Off-policy evaluation (OPE) in contextual bandits has seen rapid adoption in real-world systems, since it enables offline evaluation of new policies using only historic log data. Unfortunately, when the number of actions is large, existing OPE estimators -- most of which are based on inverse propensity score weighting -- degrade severely and can suffer from extreme bias and variance. This foils the use of OPE in many applications from recommender systems to language models. To overcome this issue, we propose a new OPE estimator that leverages marginalized importance weights when action embeddings provide structure in the action space. We characterize the bias, variance, and mean squared error of the proposed estimator and analyze the conditions under which the action embedding provides statistical benefits over conventional estimators. In addition to the theoretical analysis, we find that the empirical performance improvement can be substantial, enabling reliable OPE even when existing estimators collapse due to a large number of actions.

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