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# Optimal Exploration is no harder than Thompson Sampling

*Proceedings of The 27th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Statistics*, PMLR 238:1684-1692, 2024.

#### Abstract

Given a set of arms $\mathcal{Z}\subset \mathbb{R}^d$ and an unknown parameter vector $\theta_\ast\in\mathbb{R}^d$, the pure exploration linear bandits problem aims to return $\arg\max_{z\in \mathcal{Z}} z^{\top}\theta_{\ast}$, with high probability through noisy measurements of $x^{\top}\theta_{\ast}$ with $x\in \mathcal{X}\subset \mathbb{R}^d$. Existing (asymptotically) optimal methods require either a) potentially costly projections for each arm $z\in \mathcal{Z}$ or b) explicitly maintaining a subset of $\mathcal{Z}$ under consideration at each time. This complexity is at odds with the popular and simple Thompson Sampling algorithm for regret minimization, which just requires access to a posterior sampling and argmax oracle, and does not need to enumerate $\mathcal{Z}$ at any point. Unfortunately, Thompson sampling is known to be sub-optimal for pure exploration. In this work, we pose a natural question: is there an algorithm that can explore optimally and only needs the same computational primitives as Thompson Sampling? We answer the question in the affirmative. We provide an algorithm that leverages only sampling and argmax oracles and achieves an exponential convergence rate, with the exponent equal to the exponent of the optimal fixed allocation asymptotically. In addition, we show that our algorithm can be easily implemented and performs as well empirically as existing asymptotically optimal methods.