Stochastic Multi-armed Bandits: Optimal Trade-off among Optimality, Consistency, and Tail Risk

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


David Simchi-Levi, Zeyu Zheng, Feng Zhu


We consider the stochastic multi-armed bandit problem and fully characterize the interplays among three desired properties for policy design: worst-case optimality, instance-dependent consistency, and light-tailed risk. We show how the order of expected regret exactly affects the decaying rate of the regret tail probability for both the worst-case and instance-dependent scenario. A novel policy is proposed to achieve the optimal regret tail risk for any regret threshold. Concretely, for any given $\alpha\in[1/2, 1)$ and $\beta\in[0, 1)$, our policy achieves a worst-case expected regret of $\tilde O(T^\alpha)$ and instance-dependent expected regret of $\tilde O(T^\beta)$, while enjoys a probability of incurring an $\Omega(T^\delta)$ regret that decays exponentially with a polynomial $T$ term. Such decaying rate is proved to be best achievable. We also generalize our analysis to the stochastic multi-armed bandit problem with non-stationary baseline rewards, where in each time period $t$, the decision maker pulls one of $K$ arms and collects a reward which is the sum of three terms: the mean of the pulled arm, an independent noise, and a non-stationary baseline reward as a function of $t$. Our results reveal insights on the trade-off between expected regret and tail risk for both worst-case and instance-dependent scenario, indicating that more sub-optimality and inconsistency leaves space for more light-tailed risk of incurring a large regret.