An Optimal Elimination Algorithm for Learning a Best Arm

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2020)

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Authors

Avinatan Hassidim, Ron Kupfer, Yaron Singer

Abstract

We consider the classic problem of $(\epsilon,\delta)$-\texttt{PAC} learning a best arm where the goal is to identify with confidence $1-\delta$ an arm whose mean is an $\epsilon$-approximation to that of the highest mean arm in a multi-armed bandit setting. This problem is one of the most fundamental problems in statistics and learning theory, yet somewhat surprisingly its worst case sample complexity is not well understood. In this paper we propose a new approach for $(\epsilon,\delta)$-\texttt{PAC} learning a best arm. This approach leads to an algorithm whose sample complexity converges to \emph{exactly} the optimal sample complexity of $(\epsilon,\delta)$-learning the mean of $n$ arms separately and we complement this result with a conditional matching lower bound. More specifically: \begin{itemize} \item The algorithm's sample complexity converges to \emph{exactly} $\frac{n}{2\epsilon^2}\log \frac{1}{\delta}$ as $n$ grows and $\delta \geq \frac{1}{n}$; % \item We prove that no elimination algorithm obtains sample complexity arbitrarily lower than $\frac{n}{2\epsilon^2}\log \frac{1}{\delta}$. Elimination algorithms is a broad class of $(\epsilon,\delta)$-\texttt{PAC} best arm learning algorithms that includes many algorithms in the literature. \end{itemize} When $n$ is independent of $\delta$ our approach yields an algorithm whose sample complexity converges to $\frac{2n}{\epsilon^2} \log \frac{1}{\delta}$ as $n$ grows. In comparison with the best known algorithm for this problem our approach improves the sample complexity by a factor of over 1500 and over 6000 when $\delta\geq \frac{1}{n}$.