Online Multi-Armed Bandits with Adaptive Inference

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Maria Dimakopoulou, Zhimei Ren, Zhengyuan Zhou


During online decision making in Multi-Armed Bandits (MAB), one needs to conduct inference on the true mean reward of each arm based on data collected so far at each step. However, since the arms are adaptively selected--thereby yielding non-iid data--conducting inference accurately is not straightforward. In particular, sample averaging, which is used in the family of UCB and Thompson sampling (TS) algorithms, does not provide a good choice as it suffers from bias and a lack of good statistical properties (e.g. asymptotic normality). Our thesis in this paper is that more sophisticated inference schemes that take into account the adaptive nature of the sequentially collected data can unlock further performance gains, even though both UCB and TS type algorithms are optimal in the worst case. In particular, we propose a variant of TS-style algorithms--which we call doubly adaptive TS--that leverages recent advances in causal inference and adaptively reweights the terms of a doubly robust estimator on the true mean reward of each arm. Through 20 synthetic domain experiments and a semi-synthetic experiment based on data from an A/B test of a web service, we demonstrate that using an adaptive inferential scheme (while still retaining the exploration efficacy of TS) provides clear benefits in online decision making: the proposed DATS algorithm has superior empirical performance to existing baselines (UCB and TS) in terms of regret and sample complexity in identifying the best arm. In addition, we also provide a finite-time regret bound of doubly adaptive TS that matches (up to log factors) those of UCB and TS algorithms, thereby establishing that its improved practical benefits do not come at the expense of worst-case suboptimality.