Bayesian decision-making under misspecified priors with applications to meta-learning

Max Simchowitz, Christopher Tosh, Akshay Krishnamurthy, Daniel Hsu, Thodoris Lykouris, Miroslav Dudík, Robert Schapire

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

Thompson sampling and other Bayesian sequential decision-making algorithms are among the most popular approaches to tackle explore/exploit trade-offs in (contextual) bandits. The choice of prior in these algorithms offers flexibility to encode domain knowledge but can also lead to poor performance when misspecified. In this paper, we demonstrate that performance degrades gracefully with misspecification. We prove that the expected reward accrued by Thompson sampling (TS) with a misspecified prior differs by at most Õ(H2ϵ) from TS with a well-specified prior, where ϵ is the total-variation distance between priors and H is the learning horizon. Our bound does not require the prior to have any parametric form. For priors with bounded support, our bound is independent of the cardinality or structure of the action space, and we show that it is tight up to universal constants in the worst case. Building on our sensitivity analysis, we establish generic PAC guarantees for algorithms in the recently studied Bayesian meta-learning setting and derive corollaries for various families of priors. Our results generalize along two axes: (1) they apply to a broader family of Bayesian decision-making algorithms, including a Monte-Carlo implementation of the knowledge gradient algorithm (KG), and (2) they apply to Bayesian POMDPs, the most general Bayesian decision-making setting, encompassing contextual bandits as a special case. Through numerical simulations, we illustrate how prior misspecification and the deployment of one-step look-ahead (as in KG) can impact the convergence of meta-learning in multi-armed and contextual bandits with structured and correlated priors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 - 35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021
EditorsMarc'Aurelio Ranzato, Alina Beygelzimer, Yann Dauphin, Percy S. Liang, Jenn Wortman Vaughan
PublisherNeural information processing systems foundation
Pages26382-26394
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781713845393
StatePublished - 2021
Event35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Dec 6 2021Dec 14 2021

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
Volume32
ISSN (Print)1049-5258

Conference

Conference35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021
CityVirtual, Online
Period12/6/2112/14/21

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing

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