Proportional Response: Contextual Bandits for Simple and Cumulative Regret Minimization

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Sanath Kumar Krishnamurthy, Ruohan Zhan, Susan Athey, Emma Brunskill


In many applications, e.g. in healthcare and e-commerce, the goal of a contextual bandit may be to learn an optimal treatment assignment policy at the end of the experiment. That is, to minimize simple regret. However, this objective remains understudied. We propose a new family of computationally efficient bandit algorithms for the stochastic contextual bandit setting, where a tuning parameter determines the weight placed on cumulative regret minimization (where we establish near-optimal minimax guarantees) versus simple regret minimization (where we establish state-of-the-art guarantees). Our algorithms work with any function class, are robust to model misspecification, and can be used in continuous arm settings. This flexibility comes from constructing and relying on “conformal arm sets" (CASs). CASs provide a set of arms for every context, encompassing the context-specific optimal arm with a certain probability across the context distribution. Our positive results on simple and cumulative regret guarantees are contrasted with a negative result, which shows that no algorithm can achieve instance-dependent simple regret guarantees while simultaneously achieving minimax optimal cumulative regret guarantees.