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Stochastic Shortest Path: Minimax, Parameter-Free and Towards Horizon-Free Regret
Jean Tarbouriech · Runlong Zhou · Simon Du · Matteo Pirotta · Michal Valko · Alessandro Lazaric

We study the problem of learning in the stochastic shortest path (SSP) setting, where an agent seeks to minimize the expected cost accumulated before reaching a goal state. We design a novel model-based algorithm EB-SSP that carefully skews the empirical transitions and perturbs the empirical costs with an exploration bonus to induce an optimistic SSP problem whose associated value iteration scheme is guaranteed to converge. We prove that EB-SSP achieves the minimax regret rate $\widetilde{O}(B_{\star} \sqrt{S A K})$, where $K$ is the number of episodes, $S$ is the number of states, $A$ is the number of actions and $B_{\star}$ bounds the expected cumulative cost of the optimal policy from any state, thus closing the gap with the lower bound. Interestingly, EB-SSP obtains this result while being parameter-free, i.e., it does not require any prior knowledge of $B_{\star}$, nor of $T_{\star}$, which bounds the expected time-to-goal of the optimal policy from any state. Furthermore, we illustrate various cases (e.g., positive costs, or general costs when an order-accurate estimate of $T_{\star}$ is available) where the regret only contains a logarithmic dependence on $T_{\star}$, thus yielding the first (nearly) horizon-free regret bound beyond the finite-horizon MDP setting.

Author Information

Jean Tarbouriech (Facebook AI Research & Inria)
Runlong Zhou (IIIS, Tsinghua University)
Simon Du (University of Washington)
Matteo Pirotta (Facebook AI Research)
Michal Valko (DeepMind Paris / Inria / ENS Paris-Saclay)
Michal Valko

Michal is a machine learning scientist in DeepMind Paris, tenured researcher at Inria, and the lecturer of the master course Graphs in Machine Learning at l'ENS Paris-Saclay. Michal is primarily interested in designing algorithms that would require as little human supervision as possible. This means 1) reducing the “intelligence” that humans need to input into the system and 2) minimizing the data that humans need to spend inspecting, classifying, or “tuning” the algorithms. That is why he is working on methods and settings that are able to deal with minimal feedback, such as deep reinforcement learning, bandit algorithms, or self-supervised learning. Michal is actively working on represenation learning and building worlds models. He is also working on deep (reinforcement) learning algorithm that have some theoretical underpinning. He has also worked on sequential algorithms with structured decisions where exploiting the structure leads to provably faster learning. He received his Ph.D. in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh under the supervision of Miloš Hauskrecht and after was a postdoc of Rémi Munos before taking a permanent position at Inria in 2012.

Alessandro Lazaric (INRIA)

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