Optimal Clustering with Bandit Feedback

Stanford RL Forum Talk
Vincent Tan (National University of Singapore)
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Abstract: This paper considers the problem of online clustering with bandit feedback. A set of arms (or items) can be partitioned into various groups that are unknown. Within each group, the observations associated to each of the arms follow the same distribution with the same mean vector. At each time step, the agent queries or pulls an arm and obtains an independent observation from the distribution it is associated to. Subsequent pulls depend on previous ones as well as the previously obtained samples. The agent's task is to uncover the underlying partition of the arms with the least number of arm pulls and with a probability of error not exceeding a prescribed constant δ. The problem proposed finds numerous applications from clustering of variants of viruses to online market segmentation. We present an instance-dependent information-theoretic lower bound on the expected sample complexity for this task, and design a computationally efficient and asymptotically optimal algorithm, namely Bandit Online Clustering (BOC). The algorithm includes a novel stopping rule for adaptive sequential testing that circumvents the need to exactly solve any NP-hard weighted clustering problem as its subroutines. We show through extensive simulations on synthetic and real-world datasets that BOC's performance matches the lower bound asymptotically, and significantly outperforms a non-adaptive baseline algorithm.

This ( is joint work with Junwen Yang (NUS) and Zixin Zhong (NUS).


Bio: Vincent Y. F. Tan received the B.A. and M.Eng. degrees in electrical and information science from Cambridge University in 2005, and the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2011. He is currently a Dean’s Chair Associate Professor with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Mathematics, National University of Singapore (NUS). His research interests include information theory, machine learning, and statistical signal processing.

Dr. Tan is an elected member of the IEEE Information Theory Society Board of Governors. He was an IEEE Information Theory Society Distinguished Lecturer from 2018 to 2019. He received the MIT EECS Jin-Au Kong Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Prize in 2011, the Singapore National Research Foundation (NRF) Fellowship (Class of 2018), and the NUS Young Researcher Award in 2019. He was awarded the Engineering Educator Award in 2020 and 2021 and the (university level) Annual Teaching Excellence Award in 2022. He is currently serving as a Senior Area Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing and as an Associate Editor in Machine Learning and Statistics for the IEEE Transactions on Information Theory.