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# Variance-dependent best arm identification

*Proceedings of the Thirty-Seventh Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence*, PMLR 161:1120-1129, 2021.

#### Abstract

We study the problem of identifying the best arm in a stochastic multi-armed bandit game. Given a set of $n$ arms indexed from $1$ to $n$, each arm $i$ is associated with an unknown reward distribution supported on $[0,1]$ with mean $\theta_i$ and variance $\sigma_i^2$. Assume $\theta_1 > \theta_2 \geq \cdots \geq\theta_n$. We propose an adaptive algorithm which explores the gaps and variances of the rewards of the arms and makes future decisions based on the gathered information using a novel approach called

*grouped median elimination*. The proposed algorithm guarantees to output the best arm with probability $(1-\delta)$ and uses at most $O \left(\sum_{i = 1}^n \left(\frac{\sigma_i^2}{\Delta_i^2} + \frac{1}{\Delta_i}\right)(\ln \delta^{-1} + \ln \ln \Delta_i^{-1})\right)$ samples, where $\Delta_i$ ($i \geq 2$) denotes the reward gap between arm $i$ and the best arm and we define $\Delta_1 = \Delta_2$. This achieves a significant advantage over the variance-independent algorithms in some favorable scenarios and is the first result that removes the extra $\ln n$ factor on the best arm compared with the state-of-the-art. We further show that $\Omega \left( \sum_{i = 1}^n \left( \frac{\sigma_i^2}{\Delta_i^2} + \frac{1}{\Delta_i} \right) \ln \delta^{-1} \right)$ samples are necessary for an algorithm to achieve the same goal, thereby illustrating that our algorithm is optimal up to doubly logarithmic terms.