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Tractable contextual bandits beyond realizability

Sanath Kumar Krishnamurthy · Vitor Hadad · Susan Athey

Keywords: [ Learning Theory and Statistics ] [ Decision Processes and Bandits ]


Tractable contextual bandit algorithms often rely on the realizability assumption – i.e., that the true expected reward model belongs to a known class, such as linear functions. In this work, we present a tractable bandit algorithm that is not sensitive to the realizability assumption and computationally reduces to solving a constrained regression problem in every epoch. When realizability does not hold, our algorithm ensures the same guarantees on regret achieved by realizability-based algorithms under realizability, up to an additive term that accounts for the misspecification error. This extra term is proportional to T times a function of the mean squared error between the best model in the class and the true model, where T is the total number of time-steps. Our work sheds light on the bias-variance trade-off for tractable contextual bandits. This trade-off is not captured by algorithms that assume realizability, since under this assumption there exists an estimator in the class that attains zero bias.

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