Mortal Multi-Armed Bandits

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 21 (NIPS 2008)

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Deepayan Chakrabarti, Ravi Kumar, Filip Radlinski, Eli Upfal


We formulate and study a new variant of the $k$-armed bandit problem, motivated by e-commerce applications. In our model, arms have (stochastic) lifetime after which they expire. In this setting an algorithm needs to continuously explore new arms, in contrast to the standard $k$-armed bandit model in which arms are available indefinitely and exploration is reduced once an optimal arm is identified with near-certainty. The main motivation for our setting is online-advertising, where ads have limited lifetime due to, for example, the nature of their content and their campaign budget. An algorithm needs to choose among a large collection of ads, more than can be fully explored within the ads' lifetime. We present an optimal algorithm for the state-aware (deterministic reward function) case, and build on this technique to obtain an algorithm for the state-oblivious (stochastic reward function) case. Empirical studies on various reward distributions, including one derived from a real-world ad serving application, show that the proposed algorithms significantly outperform the standard multi-armed bandit approaches applied to these settings.