Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)
Bianca Dumitrascu, Karen Feng, Barbara Engelhardt
We address the problem of regret minimization in logistic contextual bandits, where a learner decides among sequential actions or arms given their respective contexts to maximize binary rewards. Using a fast inference procedure with Polya-Gamma distributed augmentation variables, we propose an improved version of Thompson Sampling, a Bayesian formulation of contextual bandits with near-optimal performance. Our approach, Polya-Gamma augmented Thompson Sampling (PG-TS), achieves state-of-the-art performance on simulated and real data. PG-TS explores the action space efficiently and exploits high-reward arms, quickly converging to solutions of low regret. Its explicit estimation of the posterior distribution of the context feature covariance leads to substantial empirical gains over approximate approaches. PG-TS is the first approach to demonstrate the benefits of Polya-Gamma augmentation in bandits and to propose an efficient Gibbs sampler for approximating the analytically unsolvable integral of logistic contextual bandits.