Making the most of your day: online learning for optimal allocation of time

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

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Etienne Boursier, Tristan Garrec, Vianney Perchet, Marco Scarsini


We study online learning for optimal allocation when the resource to be allocated is time. An agent receives task proposals sequentially according to a Poisson process and can either accept or reject a proposed task. If she accepts the proposal, she is busy for the duration of the task and obtains a reward that depends on the task duration. If she rejects it, she remains on hold until a new task proposal arrives. We study the regret incurred by the agent first when she knows her reward function but does not know the distribution of the task duration, and then when she does not know her reward function, either. Faster rates are finally obtained by adding structural assumptions on the distribution of rides or on the reward function. This natural setting bears similarities with contextual (one-armed) bandits, but with the crucial difference that the normalized reward associated to a context depends on the whole distribution of contexts.