Szpruch, Lukasz, Treetanthiploet, Tanut, Zhang, Yufei

We develop a probabilistic framework for analysing model-based reinforcement learning in the episodic setting. We then apply it to study finite-time horizon stochastic control problems with linear dynamics but unknown coefficients and convex, but possibly irregular, objective function. Using probabilistic representations, we study regularity of the associated cost functions and establish precise estimates for the performance gap between applying optimal feedback control derived from estimated and true model parameters. We identify conditions under which this performance gap is quadratic, improving the linear performance gap in recent work [X. Guo, A. Hu, and Y. Zhang, arXiv preprint, arXiv:2104.09311, (2021)], which matches the results obtained for stochastic linear-quadratic problems. Next, we propose a phase-based learning algorithm for which we show how to optimise exploration-exploitation trade-off and achieve sublinear regrets in high probability and expectation. When assumptions needed for the quadratic performance gap hold, the algorithm achieves an order $\mathcal{O}(\sqrt{N} \ln N)$ high probability regret, in the general case, and an order $\mathcal{O}((\ln N)^2)$ expected regret, in self-exploration case, over $N$ episodes, matching the best possible results from the literature. The analysis requires novel concentration inequalities for correlated continuous-time observations, which we derive.

Basei, Matteo, Guo, Xin, Hu, Anran, Zhang, Yufei

We study finite-time horizon continuous-time linear-quadratic reinforcement learning problems in an episodic setting, where both the state and control coefficients are unknown to the controller. We first propose a least-squares algorithm based on continuous-time observations and controls, and establish a logarithmic regret bound of order $O((\ln M)(\ln\ln M))$, with $M$ being the number of learning episodes. The analysis consists of two parts: perturbation analysis, which exploits the regularity and robustness of the associated Riccati differential equation; and parameter estimation error, which relies on sub-exponential properties of continuous-time least-squares estimators. We further propose a practically implementable least-squares algorithm based on discrete-time observations and piecewise constant controls, which achieves similar logarithmic regret with an additional term depending explicitly on the time stepsizes used in the algorithm.

Christensen, Sören, Strauch, Claudia, Trottner, Lukas

Stochastic optimal control problems have a long tradition in applied probability, with the questions addressed being of high relevance in a multitude of fields. Even though theoretical solutions are well understood in many scenarios, their practicability suffers from the assumption of known dynamics of the underlying stochastic process, raising the statistical challenge of developing purely data-driven strategies. For the mathematically separated classes of continuous diffusion processes and L\'evy processes, we show that developing efficient strategies for related singular stochastic control problems can essentially be reduced to finding rate-optimal estimators with respect to the sup-norm risk of objects associated to the invariant distribution of ergodic processes which determine the theoretical solution of the control problem. From a statistical perspective, we exploit the exponential $\beta$-mixing property as the common factor of both scenarios to drive the convergence analysis, indicating that relying on general stability properties of Markov processes is a sufficiently powerful and flexible approach to treat complex applications requiring statistical methods. We show moreover that in the L\'evy case $-$ even though per se jump processes are more difficult to handle both in statistics and control theory $-$ a fully data-driven strategy with regret of significantly better order than in the diffusion case can be constructed.

Malik, Dhruv, Pananjady, Ashwin, Bhatia, Kush, Khamaru, Koulik, Bartlett, Peter L., Wainwright, Martin J.

We study derivative-free methods for policy optimization over the class of linear policies. We focus on characterizing the convergence rate of these methods when applied to linear-quadratic systems, and study various settings of driving noise and reward feedback. We show that these methods provably converge to within any pre-specified tolerance of the optimal policy with a number of zero-order evaluations that is an explicit polynomial of the error tolerance, dimension, and curvature properties of the problem. Our analysis reveals some interesting differences between the settings of additive driving noise and random initialization, as well as the settings of one-point and two-point reward feedback. Our theory is corroborated by extensive simulations of derivative-free methods on these systems. Along the way, we derive convergence rates for stochastic zero-order optimization algorithms when applied to a certain class of non-convex problems.

Duchi, John C., Bartlett, Peter L., Wainwright, Martin J.

We analyze convergence rates of stochastic optimization procedures for non-smooth convex optimization problems. By combining randomized smoothing techniques with accelerated gradient methods, we obtain convergence rates of stochastic optimization procedures, both in expectation and with high probability, that have optimal dependence on the variance of the gradient estimates. To the best of our knowledge, these are the first variance-based rates for non-smooth optimization. We give several applications of our results to statistical estimation problems, and provide experimental results that demonstrate the effectiveness of the proposed algorithms. We also describe how a combination of our algorithm with recent work on decentralized optimization yields a distributed stochastic optimization algorithm that is order-optimal.