Slivkins, Aleksandrs

Multi-armed bandits a simple but very powerful framework for algorithms that make decisions over time under uncertainty. An enormous body of work has accumulated over the years, covered in several books and surveys. This book provides a more introductory, textbook-like treatment of the subject. Each chapter tackles a particular line of work, providing a self-contained, teachable technical introduction and a review of the more advanced results. The chapters are as follows: Stochastic bandits; Lower bounds; Bayesian Bandits and Thompson Sampling; Lipschitz Bandits; Full Feedback and Adversarial Costs; Adversarial Bandits; Linear Costs and Semi-bandits; Contextual Bandits; Bandits and Zero-Sum Games; Bandits with Knapsacks; Incentivized Exploration and Connections to Mechanism Design.

Krishnamurthy, Akshay, Langford, John, Slivkins, Aleksandrs, Zhang, Chicheng

We consider contextual bandits: a setting in which a learner repeatedly makes an action on the basis of contextual information and observes a loss for the action, with the goal of minimizing cumulative loss over a series of rounds. Contextual bandit learning has received much attention, and has seen substantial success in practice (e.g., Auer et al., 2002; Langford and Zhang, 2007; Agarwal et al., 2014, 2017). This line of work mostly considers small, finite action sets, yet in many real-world problems actions are chosen from from an interval, so the set is continuous and infinite. How can we learn to make actions from continuous spaces based on loss-only feedback? We could assume that nearby actions have similar losses, for example that the losses are Lipschitz continuous as a function of the action (following Agrawal, 1995, and a long line of subsequent work).

Immorlica, Nicole, Sankararaman, Karthik Abinav, Schapire, Robert, Slivkins, Aleksandrs

We consider Bandits with Knapsacks (henceforth, BwK), a general model for multi-armed bandits under supply/budget constraints. In particular, a bandit algorithm needs to solve a well-known knapsack problem: find an optimal packing of items into a limited-size knapsack. The BwK problem is a common generalization of numerous motivating examples, which range from dynamic pricing to repeated auctions to dynamic ad allocation to network routing and scheduling. While the prior work on BwK focused on the stochastic version, we pioneer the other extreme in which the outcomes can be chosen adversarially. This is a considerably harder problem, compared to both the stochastic version and the "classic" adversarial bandits, in that regret minimization is no longer feasible. Instead, the objective is to minimize the competitive ratio: the ratio of the benchmark reward to the algorithm's reward. We design an algorithm with competitive ratio O(log T) relative to the best fixed distribution over actions, where T is the time horizon; we also prove a matching lower bound. The key conceptual contribution is a new perspective on the stochastic version of the problem. We suggest a new algorithm for the stochastic version, which builds on the framework of regret minimization in repeated games and admits a substantially simpler analysis compared to prior work. We then analyze this algorithm for the adversarial version and use it as a subroutine to solve the latter.

Raghavan, Manish, Slivkins, Aleksandrs, Vaughan, Jennifer Wortman, Wu, Zhiwei Steven

Online learning algorithms, widely used to power search and content optimization on the web, must balance exploration and exploitation, potentially sacrificing the experience of current users for information that will lead to better decisions in the future. Recently, concerns have been raised about whether the process of exploration could be viewed as unfair, placing too much burden on certain individuals or groups. Motivated by these concerns, we initiate the study of the externalities of exploration - the undesirable side effects that the presence of one party may impose on another - under the linear contextual bandits model. We introduce the notion of a group externality, measuring the extent to which the presence of one population of users impacts the rewards of another. We show that this impact can in some cases be negative, and that, in a certain sense, no algorithm can avoid it. We then study externalities at the individual level, interpreting the act of exploration as an externality imposed on the current user of a system by future users. This drives us to ask under what conditions inherent diversity in the data makes explicit exploration unnecessary. We build on a recent line of work on the smoothed analysis of the greedy algorithm that always chooses the action that currently looks optimal, improving on prior results to show that a greedy approach almost matches the best possible Bayesian regret rate of any other algorithm on the same problem instance whenever the diversity conditions hold, and that this regret is at most $\tilde{O}(T^{1/3})$. Returning to group-level effects, we show that under the same conditions, negative group externalities essentially vanish under the greedy algorithm. Together, our results uncover a sharp contrast between the high externalities that exist in the worst case, and the ability to remove all externalities if the data is sufficiently diverse.

Abraham, Ittai, Alonso, Omar, Kandylas, Vasilis, Patel, Rajesh, Shelford, Steven, Slivkins, Aleksandrs

Crowdsourcing has been part of the IR toolbox as a cheap and fast mechanism to obtain labels for system development and evaluation. Successful deployment of crowdsourcing at scale involves adjusting many variables, a very important one being the number of workers needed per human intelligence task (HIT). We consider the crowdsourcing task of learning the answer to simple multiple-choice HITs, which are representative of many relevance experiments. In order to provide statistically significant results, one often needs to ask multiple workers to answer the same HIT. A stopping rule is an algorithm that, given a HIT, decides for any given set of worker answers if the system should stop and output an answer or iterate and ask one more worker. Knowing the historic performance of a worker in the form of a quality score can be beneficial in such a scenario. In this paper we investigate how to devise better stopping rules given such quality scores. We also suggest adaptive exploration as a promising approach for scalable and automatic creation of ground truth. We conduct a data analysis on an industrial crowdsourcing platform, and use the observations from this analysis to design new stopping rules that use the workers' quality scores in a non-trivial manner. We then perform a simulation based on a real-world workload, showing that our algorithm performs better than the more naive approaches.

Ho, Chien-Ju, Slivkins, Aleksandrs, Vaughan, Jennifer Wortman

Crowdsourcing markets have emerged as a popular platform for matching available workers with tasks to complete. The payment for a particular task is typically set by the task's requester, and may be adjusted based on the quality of the completed work, for example, through the use of "bonus" payments. In this paper, we study the requester's problem of dynamically adjusting quality-contingent payments for tasks. We consider a multi-round version of the well-known principal-agent model, whereby in each round a worker makes a strategic choice of the effort level which is not directly observable by the requester. In particular, our formulation significantly generalizes the budget-free online task pricing problems studied in prior work. We treat this problem as a multi-armed bandit problem, with each "arm" representing a potential contract. To cope with the large (and in fact, infinite) number of arms, we propose a new algorithm, AgnosticZooming, which discretizes the contract space into a finite number of regions, effectively treating each region as a single arm. This discretization is adaptively refined, so that more promising regions of the contract space are eventually discretized more finely. We analyze this algorithm, showing that it achieves regret sublinear in the time horizon and substantially improves over non-adaptive discretization (which is the only competing approach in the literature). Our results advance the state of art on several different topics: the theory of crowdsourcing markets, principal-agent problems, multi-armed bandits, and dynamic pricing.

Slivkins, Aleksandrs

The multi-armed bandit (MAB) setting is a useful abstraction of many online learning tasks which focuses on the trade-off between exploration and exploitation. In this setting, an online algorithm has a fixed set of alternatives ("arms"), and in each round it selects one arm and then observes the corresponding reward. While the case of small number of arms is by now well-understood, a lot of recent work has focused on multi-armed bandits with (infinitely) many arms, where one needs to assume extra structure in order to make the problem tractable. In particular, in the Lipschitz MAB problem there is an underlying similarity metric space, known to the algorithm, such that any two arms that are close in this metric space have similar payoffs. In this paper we consider the more realistic scenario in which the metric space is *implicit* -- it is defined by the available structure but not revealed to the algorithm directly. Specifically, we assume that an algorithm is given a tree-based classification of arms. For any given problem instance such a classification implicitly defines a similarity metric space, but the numerical similarity information is not available to the algorithm. We provide an algorithm for this setting, whose performance guarantees (almost) match the best known guarantees for the corresponding instance of the Lipschitz MAB problem.

Syed, Umar, Slivkins, Aleksandrs, Mishra, Nina

Search engines today present results that are often oblivious to recent shifts in intent. For example, the meaning of the query independence day shifts in early July to a US holiday and to a movie around the time of the box office release. While no studies exactly quantify the magnitude of intent-shifting traffic, studies suggest that news events, seasonal topics, pop culture, etc account for 1/2 the search queries. This paper shows that the signals a search engine receives can be used to both determine that a shift in intent happened, as well as find a result that is now more relevant. We present a meta-algorithm that marries a classifier with a bandit algorithm to achieve regret that depends logarithmically on the number of query impressions, under certain assumptions. We provide strong evidence that this regret is close to the best achievable. Finally, via a series of experiments, we demonstrate that our algorithm outperforms prior approaches, particularly as the amount of intent-shifting traffic increases.