Decision-Focused Learning (DFL) is a paradigm for tailoring a predictive model to a downstream optimization task that uses its predictions in order to perform better on that specific task. The main technical challenge associated with DFL is that it requires being able to differentiate through the optimization problem, which is difficult due to discontinuous solutions and other challenges. Past work has largely gotten around this this issue by handcrafting task-specific surrogates to the original optimization problem that provide informative gradients when differentiated through. However, the need to handcraft surrogates for each new task limits the usability of DFL. In addition, there are often no guarantees about the convexity of the resulting surrogates and, as a result, training a predictive model using them can lead to inferior local optima. In this paper, we do away with surrogates altogether and instead learn loss functions that capture task-specific information. To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first approach that entirely replaces the optimization component of decision-focused learning with a loss that is automatically learned. Our approach (a) only requires access to a black-box oracle that can solve the optimization problem and is thus generalizable, and (b) can be convex by construction and so can be easily optimized over. We evaluate our approach on three resource allocation problems from the literature and find that our approach outperforms learning without taking into account task-structure in all three domains, and even hand-crafted surrogates from the literature.
The maternal mortality rate in India is appalling, largely fueled by lack of access to preventive care information, especially in low resource households. We partner with non-profit, ARMMAN, that aims to use mobile health technologies to improve the maternal and child health outcomes.
To assisst ARMMAN and such non-profits, we develop a Restless Multi-Armed Bandit (RMAB) based solution to help improve accessibility of critical health information, via increased engagement of beneficiaries with their program. We address fundamental research challenges that crop up along the way and present technical advances in RMABs and Planning Algorithms for Limited-Resource Allocation. Transcending the boundaries of typical laboratory research, we also deploy our models in the field, and present results from a first-of-its-kind pilot test employing and evaluating RMABs in a real-world public health application.
From large-scale organizations to decentralized political systems, hierarchical strategic decision making is commonplace. We introduce a novel class of structured hierarchical games (SHGs) that formally capture such hierarchical strategic interactions. In an SHG, each player is a node in a tree, and strategic choices of players are sequenced from root to leaves, with root moving first, followed by its children, then followed by their children, and so on until the leaves. A player’s utility in an SHG depends on its own decision, and on the choices of its parent and all the tree leaves. SHGs thus generalize simultaneous-move games, as well as Stackelberg games with many followers. We leverage the structure of both the sequence of player moves as well as payoff dependence to develop a gradientbased back propagation-style algorithm, which we call Differential Backward Induction (DBI), for approximating equilibria of SHGs. We provide a sufficient condition for convergence of DBI and demonstrate its efficacy in finding approximate equilibrium solutions to several SHG models of hierarchical policy-making problems.
We introduce robustness in restless multi-armed bandits (RMABs), a popular model for constrained resource allocation among independent stochastic processes (arms). Nearly all RMAB techniques assume stochastic dynamics are precisely known. However, in many real-world settings, dynamics are estimated with significant uncertainty, e.g., via historical data, which can lead to bad outcomes if ignored. To address this, we develop an algorithm to compute minimax regret--robust policies for RMABs. Our approach uses a double oracle framework (oracles for agent and nature), which is often used for single-process robust planning but requires significant new techniques to accommodate the combinatorial nature of RMABs. Specifically, we design a deep reinforcement learning (RL) algorithm, DDLPO, which tackles the combinatorial challenge by learning an auxiliary "λ-network" in tandem with policy networks per arm, greatly reducing sample complexity, with guarantees on convergence. DDLPO, of general interest, implements our reward-maximizing agent oracle. We then tackle the challenging regret-maximizing nature oracle, a non-stationary RL challenge, by formulating it as a multi-agent RL problem between a policy optimizer and adversarial nature. This formulation is of general interest---we solve it for RMABs by creating a multi-agent extension of DDLPO with a shared critic. We show our approaches work well in three experimental domains.
Preventing poaching through ranger patrols is critical for protecting endangered wildlife. Combinatorial bandits have been used to allocate limited patrol resources, but existing approaches overlook the fact that each location is home to multiple species in varying proportions, so a patrol benefits each species to differing degrees. When some species are more vulnerable, we ought to offer more protection to these animals; unfortunately, existing combinatorial bandit approaches do not offer a way to prioritize important species. To bridge this gap, (1) We propose a novel combinatorial bandit objective that trades off between reward maximization and also accounts for prioritization over species, which we call ranked prioritization. We show this objective can be expressed as a weighted linear sum of Lipschitz-continuous reward functions. (2) We provide RankedCUCB, an algorithm to select combinatorial actions that optimize our prioritization-based objective, and prove that it achieves asymptotic no-regret. (3) We demonstrate empirically that RankedCUCB leads to up to 38% improvement in outcomes for endangered species using real-world wildlife conservation data. Along with adapting to other challenges such as preventing illegal logging and overfishing, our no-regret algorithm addresses the general combinatorial bandit problem with a weighted linear objective.
Organizations typically use simulation campaigns to train employees to detect phishing emails but are non-personalized and fail to account for human experiential learning and adaptivity. We propose a method to improve the effectiveness of training by combining cognitive modeling with machine learning methods. We frame the problem as one of scheduling and use the restless multi-armed bandit (RMAB) framework to select which users to target for intervention at each trial, while using a cognitive model of phishing susceptibility to inform the parameters of the RMAB. We compare the effectiveness of the RMAB solution to two purely cognitive approaches in a series of simulation studies using the cognitive model as simulated participants. Both approaches show improvement compared to random selection and we highlight the pros and cons of each approach. We discuss the implications of these findings and future research that aims to combine the benefits of both methods for a more effective solution.
More than 5 million children under five years die from largely preventable or treatable medical conditions every year, with an overwhelmingly large proportion of deaths occurring in under-developedcountries with low vaccination uptake.One ofthe United Nations’ sustainable development goals(SDG 3) aims to end preventable deaths of new-borns and children under five years of age.Wefocus on Nigeria, where the rate of infant mortal-ity is appalling. We collaborate with HelpMum, alarge non-profit organization in Nigeria to design and optimize the allocation of heterogeneous healthinterventions under uncertainty to increase vaccination uptake, the first such collaboration in Nigeria. Our framework, ADVISER: AI-Driven Vaccination Intervention Optimiser, is based on an integer linear program that seeks to maximize the cumulative probability of successful vaccination. Ouroptimization formulation is intractable in practice. We present a heuristic approach that enables us tosolve the problem for real-world use-cases. We also present theoretical bounds for the heuristic method.Finally, we show that the proposed approach out-performs baseline methods in terms of vaccinationuptake through experimental evaluation. HelpMum is currently planning a pilot program based on ourapproach to be deployed in the largest city of Nigeria, which would be the first deployment of an AI-driven vaccination uptake program in the countryand hopefully, pave the way for other data-drivenprograms to improve health outcomes in Nigeria.
This thesis examines social interventions conducted to address societal challenges such as homelessness, substance abuse or suicide. In most of these applications, it is challenging to purposefully collect data. Hence, we need to rely on social (e.g., social network data) or observational data (e.g., administrative data) to guide our decisions. Problematically, these datasets are prone to different statistical or societal biases. When optimized and evaluated on these data, ostensibly impartial algorithms may result in disparate impacts across different groups. In addition, these domains are plagued by limited resources and/or limited data which create a computational challenge with respect to improving the delivery of these interventions. In this thesis, I investigate the interplay of fairness and these computational challenges which I present in two parts. In the first part, I introduce the problem of fairness in social network-based interventions where I propose to use social network data to enhance interventions that rely on individual’s social connectedness such as HIV/suicide prevention or community preparedness against natural disasters. I demonstrate how biases in the social network can manifest as disparate outcomes across groups and describe my approach to mitigate such unfairness. In the second part, I focus on fairness challenges when data is observational. Motivated by the homelessness crisis in the U.S., I study the problem of learning fair resource allocation policies using observational data where I develop a methodology that handles selection bias in the data. I conclude with a critique on the fairness metrics proposed in the literature, both causal and observational (statistical), and I present a novel causal view that addresses the shortcomings of existing approaches. In particular, my findings shed new light on well-known impossibility results from the fair machine learning literature.
In the past decade, breakthroughs of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in its multiple sub-area have made new applications in various domains possible. One typical yet essential example is the public health domain. There are many challenges for humans in our never-ending battle with diseases. Among them, problems involving harnessing data with network structures and future planning, such as disease control or resource allocation, demand effective solutions significantly. However, unfortunately, some of them are too complicated or unscalable for humans to solve optimally. This thesis tackles these challenging sequential network planning problems for the public health domain by advancing the state-of-the-art to a new level of effectiveness.
In particular, My thesis provides three main contributions to overcome the emerging challenges when applying sequential network planning problems in the public health domain, namely (1) a novel sequential network-based screening/contact tracing framework under uncertainty, (2) a novel sequential network-based mobile interventions framework, (3) theoretical analysis, algorithmic solutions and empirical experiments that shows superior performance compared to previous approaches both theoretically and empirically.
More concretely, the first part of this thesis studies the active screening problem as an emerging application for disease prevention. I introduce a new approach to modeling multi-round network-based screening/contact tracing under uncertainty. Based on the well-known network SIS model in computational epidemiology, which is applicable for many diseases, I propose a model of the multi-agent active screening problem (ACTS) and prove its NP-hardness. I further proposed the REMEDY (REcurrent screening Multi-round Efficient DYnamic agent) algorithm for solving this problem. With a time and solution quality trade-off, REMEDY has two variants, Full- and Fast-REMEDY. It is a Frank-Wolfe-style gradient descent algorithm realized by compacting the representation of belief states to represent uncertainty. As shown in the experiment conducted, Full- and Fast-REMEDY are not only being superior in controlling diseases to all the previous approaches; they are also robust to varying levels of missing information in the social graph and budget change, thus enabling the use of our agent to improve the current practice of real-world screening contexts.
The second part of this thesis focuses on the scalability issue for the time horizon for the ACTS problem. Although Full-REMEDY provides excellent solution qualities, it fails to scale to large time horizons while fully considering the future effect of current interventions. Thus, I proposed a novel reinforcement learning (RL) approach based on Deep Q-Networks (DQN). Due to the nature of the ACTS problem, several challenges that the traditional RL can not handle have emerged, including (1) the combinatorial nature of the problem, (2) the need for sequential planning, and (3) the uncertainties in the infectiousness states of the population. I design several innovative adaptations in my RL approach to address the above challenges. I will introduce why and how these adaptations are made in this part.
For the third part, I introduce a novel sequential network-based mobile interventions framework. It is a restless multi-armed bandits (RMABs) with network pulling effects. In the proposed model, arms are partially recharging and connected through a graph. Pulling one arm also improves the state of neighboring arms, significantly extending the previously studied setting of fully recharging bandits with no network effects. Such network effect may arise due to regular population movements (such as commuting between home and work) for mobile intervention applications. In my thesis, I show that network effects in RMABs induce strong reward coupling that is not accounted for by existing solution methods. I also propose a new solution approach for the networked RMABs by exploiting concavity properties that arise under natural assumptions on the structure of intervention effects. In addition, I show the optimality of such a method in idealized settings and demonstrate that it empirically outperforms state-of-the-art baselines.
A growing body of work in game theory extends the traditional Stackelberg game to settings with one leader and multiple followers who play a Nash equilibrium. Standard approaches for computing equilibria in these games reformulate the followers' best response as constraints in the leader's optimization problem. These reformulation approaches can sometimes be effective, but make limiting assumptions on the followers' objectives and the equilibrium reached by followers, e.g., uniqueness, optimism, or pessimism. To overcome these limitations, we run gradient descent to update the leader's strategy by differentiating through the equilibrium reached by followers. Our approach generalizes to any stochastic equilibrium selection procedure that chooses from multiple equilibria, where we compute the stochastic gradient by back-propagating through a sampled Nash equilibrium using the solution to a partial differential equation to establish the unbiasedness of the stochastic gradient. Using the unbiased gradient estimate, we implement the gradient-based approach to solve three Stackelberg problems with multiple followers. Our approach consistently outperforms existing baselines to achieve higher utility for the leader.
The widespread availability of cell phones has enabled nonprofits to deliver critical health information to their beneficiaries in a timely manner. This paper describes our work to assist non-profits that employ automated messaging programs to deliver timely preventive care information to beneficiaries (new and expecting mothers) during pregnancy and after delivery. Unfortunately, a key challenge in such information delivery programs is that a significant fraction of beneficiaries drop out of the program. Yet, non-profits often have limited health-worker resources (time) to place crucial service calls for live interaction with beneficiaries to prevent such engagement drops. To assist non-profits in optimizing this limited resource, we developed a Restless Multi-Armed Bandits (RMABs) system. One key technical contribution in this system is a novel clustering method of offline historical data to infer unknown RMAB parameters. Our second major contribution is evaluation of our RMAB system in collaboration with an NGO, via a real-world service quality improvement study. The study compared strategies for optimizing service calls to 23003 participants over a period of 7 weeks to reduce engagement drops. We show that the RMAB group provides statistically significant improvement over other comparison groups, reducing ∼ 30% engagement drops. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating the utility of RMABs in real world public health settings. We are transitioning our RMAB system to the NGO for real-world use.