Multi-armed Bandits: Competing with Optimal Sequences

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (NIPS 2016)

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Zohar S. Karnin, Oren Anava


We consider sequential decision making problem in the adversarial setting, where regret is measured with respect to the optimal sequence of actions and the feedback adheres the bandit setting. It is well-known that obtaining sublinear regret in this setting is impossible in general, which arises the question of when can we do better than linear regret? Previous works show that when the environment is guaranteed to vary slowly and furthermore we are given prior knowledge regarding its variation (i.e., a limit on the amount of changes suffered by the environment), then this task is feasible. The caveat however is that such prior knowledge is not likely to be available in practice, which causes the obtained regret bounds to be somewhat irrelevant. Our main result is a regret guarantee that scales with the variation parameter of the environment, without requiring any prior knowledge about it whatsoever. By that, we also resolve an open problem posted by [Gur, Zeevi and Besbes, NIPS' 14]. An important key component in our result is a statistical test for identifying non-stationarity in a sequence of independent random variables. This test either identifies non-stationarity or upper-bounds the absolute deviation of the corresponding sequence of mean values in terms of its total variation. This test is interesting on its own right and has the potential to be found useful in additional settings.