Restless-UCB, an Efficient and Low-complexity Algorithm for Online Restless Bandits

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Siwei Wang, Longbo Huang, John C. S. Lui


We study the online restless bandit problem, where the state of each arm evolves according to a Markov chain, and the reward of pulling an arm depends on both the pulled arm and the current state of the corresponding Markov chain. In this paper, we propose Restless-UCB, a learning policy that follows the explore-then-commit framework. In Restless-UCB, we present a novel method to construct offline instances, which only requires $O(N)$ time-complexity ($N$ is the number of arms) and is exponentially better than the complexity of existing learning policy. We also prove that Restless-UCB achieves a regret upper bound of $\tilde{O}((N+M^3)T^{2\over 3})$, where $M$ is the Markov chain state space size and $T$ is the time horizon. Compared to existing algorithms, our result eliminates the exponential factor (in $M,N$) in the regret upper bound, due to a novel exploitation of the sparsity in transitions in general restless bandit problems. As a result, our analysis technique can also be adopted to tighten the regret bounds of existing algorithms. Finally, we conduct experiments based on real-world dataset, to compare the Restless-UCB policy with state-of-the-art benchmarks. Our results show that Restless-UCB outperforms existing algorithms in regret, and significantly reduces the running time.