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On correlation and budget constraints in model−based bandit optimization with application to automatic machine learning

Bobak Shahriari‚ Matthew Hoffman and Nando de Freitas


We address the problem of finding the maximizer of a nonlinear smooth function, that can only be evaluated point-wise, subject to constraints on the number of permitted function evaluations. This problem is also known as fixed-budget best arm identification in the multi-armed bandit literature. We introduce a Bayesian approach for this problem and show that it empirically outperforms both the existing frequentist counterpart and other Bayesian optimization methods. The Bayesian approach places emphasis on detailed modelling, including the modelling of correlations among the arms. As a result, it can perform well in situations where the number of arms is much larger than the number of allowed function evaluation, whereas the frequentist counterpart is inapplicable. This feature enables us to develop and deploy practical applications, such as automatic machine learning toolboxes. The paper presents comprehensive comparisons of the proposed approach, Thompson sampling, classical Bayesian optimization techniques, more recent Bayesian bandit approaches, and state-of-the-art best arm identification methods. This is the first comparison of many of these methods in the literature and allows us to examine the relative merits of their different features.

Book Title
Artificial Intelligence and Statistics (AISTATS)