Abbas Kazerouni, Mohammad Ghavamzadeh, Yasin Abbasi Yadkori, Benjamin Van Roy
Safety is a desirable property that can immensely increase the applicability of learning algorithms in real-world decision-making problems. It is much easier for a company to deploy an algorithm that is safe, i.e., guaranteed to perform at least as well as a baseline. In this paper, we study the issue of safety in contextual linear bandits that have application in many different fields including personalized ad recommendation in online marketing. We formulate a notion of safety for this class of algorithms. We develop a safe contextual linear bandit algorithm, called conservative linear UCB (CLUCB), that simultaneously minimizes its regret and satisfies the safety constraint, i.e., maintains its performance above a fixed percentage of the performance of a baseline strategy, uniformly over time. We prove an upper-bound on the regret of CLUCB and show that it can be decomposed into two terms: 1) an upper-bound for the regret of the standard linear UCB algorithm that grows with the time horizon and 2) a constant term that accounts for the loss of being conservative in order to satisfy the safety constraint. We empirically show that our algorithm is safe and validate our theoretical analysis.