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Offline reinforcement learning seeks to utilize offline (observational) data to guide the learning of (causal) sequential decision making strategies. The hope is that offline reinforcement learning coupled with function approximation methods (to deal with the curse of dimensionality) can provide a means to help alleviate the excessive sample complexity burden in modern sequential decision making problems. However, the extent to which this broader approach can be effective is not well understood, where the literature largely consists of sufficient conditions. This work focuses on the basic question of what are necessary representational and distributional conditions that permit provable sampleefficient offline reinforcement learning. Perhaps surprisingly, our main result shows that even if: i) we have realizability in that the true value function of \emph{every} policy is linear in a given set of features and 2) our offpolicy data has good coverage over all features (under a strong spectral condition), any algorithm still (informationtheoretically) requires a number of offline samples that is exponential in the problem horizon to nontrivially estimate the value of \emph{any} given policy. Our results highlight that sampleefficient offline policy evaluation is not possible unless significantly stronger conditions hold; such conditions include either having low distribution shift (where the offline data distribution is close to the distribution of the policy to be evaluated) or significantly stronger representational conditions (beyond realizability).more » « less

Minimax optimal convergence rates for numerous classes of stochastic convex optimization problems are well characterized, where the majority of results utilize iterate averaged stochastic gradient descent (SGD) with polynomially decaying step sizes. In contrast, the behavior of SGDs final iterate has received much less attention despite the widespread use in practice. Motivated by this observation, this work provides a detailed study of the following question: what rate is achievable using the final iterate of SGD for the streaming least quares regression problem with and without strong convexity? First, this work shows that even if the time horizon T (i.e. the number of iterations that SGD is run for) is known in advance, the behavior of SGDs final iterate with any polynomially decaying learning rate scheme is highly suboptimal compared to the statistical minimax rate (by a condition number factor in the strongly convex case and a factor of \sqrt{T} in the nonstrongly convex case). In contrast, this paper shows that Step Decay schedules, which cut the learning rate by a constant factor every constant number of epochs (i.e., the learning rate decays geometrically) offer significant improvements over any polynomially decaying step size schedule. In particular, the behavior of the final iterate with step decay schedules is off from the statistical minimax rate by only log factors (in the condition number for the strongly convex case, and in T in the nonstrongly convex case). Finally, in stark contrast to the known horizon case, this paper shows that the anytime (i.e. the limiting) behavior of SGDs final iterate is poor (in that it queries iterates with highly suboptimal function value infinitely often, i.e. in a limsup sense) irrespective of the step size scheme employed. These results demonstrate the subtlety in establishing optimal learning rate schedules (for the final iterate) for stochastic gradient procedures in fixed time horizon settings.more » « less

Modern deep learning methods provide effective means to learn good representations. However, is a good representation itself sufficient for sample efficient reinforcement learning? This question has largely been studied only with respect to (worstcase) approximation error, in the more classical approximate dynamic programming literature. With regards to the statistical viewpoint, this question is largely unexplored, and the extant body of literature mainly focuses on conditions which permit sample efficient reinforcement learning with little understanding of what are necessary conditions for efficient reinforcement learning. This work shows that, from the statistical viewpoint, the situation is far subtler than suggested by the more traditional approximation viewpoint, where the requirements on the representation that suffice for sample efficient RL are even more stringent. Our main results provide sharp thresholds for reinforcement learning methods, showing that there are hard limitations on what constitutes good function approximation (in terms of the dimensionality of the representation), where we focus on natural representational conditions relevant to valuebased, modelbased, and policybased learning. These lower bounds highlight that having a good (valuebased, modelbased, or policybased) representation in and of itself is insufficient for efficient reinforcement learning, unless the quality of this approximation passes certain hard thresholds. Furthermore, our lower bounds also imply exponential separations on the sample complexity between 1) valuebased learning with perfect representation and valuebased learning with a goodbutnotperfect representation, 2) valuebased learning and policybased learning, 3) policybased learning and supervised learning and 4) reinforcement learning and imitation learning.more » « less

Minimax optimal convergence rates for classes of stochastic convex optimization problems are well characterized, where the majority of results utilize iterate averaged stochastic gradient descent (SGD) with polynomially decaying step sizes. In contrast, SGD's final iterate behavior has received much less attention despite their widespread use in practice. Motivated by this observation, this work provides a detailed study of the following question: what rate is achievable using the final iterate of SGD for the streaming least squares regression problem with and without strong convexity? First, this work shows that even if the time horizon T (i.e. the number of iterations SGD is run for) is known in advance, SGD's final iterate behavior with any polynomially decaying learning rate scheme is highly suboptimal compared to the minimax rate (by a condition number factor in the strongly convex case and a factor of T‾‾√ in the nonstrongly convex case). In contrast, this paper shows that Step Decay schedules, which cut the learning rate by a constant factor every constant number of epochs (i.e., the learning rate decays geometrically) offers significant improvements over any polynomially decaying step sizes. In particular, the final iterate behavior with a step decay schedule is off the minimax rate by only log factors (in the condition number for strongly convex case, and in T for the nonstrongly convex case). Finally, in stark contrast to the known horizon case, this paper shows that the anytime (i.e. the limiting) behavior of SGD's final iterate is poor (in that it queries iterates with highly suboptimal function value infinitely often, i.e. in a limsup sense) irrespective of the stepsizes employed. These results demonstrate the subtlety in establishing optimal learning rate schemes (for the final iterate) for stochastic gradient procedures in fixed time horizon settings.more » « less

We consider the problem of accurately recovering a matrix B of size M by M, which represents a probability distribution over M^2 outcomes, given access to an observed matrix of "counts" generated by taking independent samples from the distribution B. How can structural properties of the underlying matrix B be leveraged to yield computationally efficient and information theoretically optimal reconstruction algorithms? When can accurate reconstruction be accomplished in the sparse data regime? This basic problem lies at the core of a number of questions that are currently being considered by different communities, including building recommendation systems and collaborative filtering in the sparse data regime, community detection in sparse random graphs, learning structured models such as topic models or hidden Markov models, and the efforts from the natural language processing community to compute "word embeddings". Many aspects of this problemboth in terms of learning and property testing/estimation and on both the algorithmic and information theoretic sidesremain open. Our results apply to the setting where B has a low rank structure. For this setting, we propose an efficient (and practically viable) algorithm that accurately recovers the underlying M by M matrix using O(M) samples} (where we assume the rank is a constant). This linear sample complexity is optimal, up to constant factors, in an extremely strong sense: even testing basic properties of the underlying matrix (such as whether it has rank 1 or 2) requires Omega(M) samples. Additionally, we provide an even stronger lower bound showing that distinguishing whether a sequence of observations were drawn from the uniform distribution over M observations versus being generated by a wellconditioned Hidden Markov Model with two hidden states requires Omega(M) observations, while our positive results for recovering B immediately imply that Omega(M) observations suffice to learn such an HMM. This lower bound precludes sublinearsample hypothesis tests for basic properties, such as identity or uniformity, as well as sublinear sample estimators for quantities such as the entropy rate of HMMs.more » « less