Keywords: contextual bandit, causal inference, confidence intervals, adaptive data collection
TL;DR: We propose a novel asymptotically normal estimator for evaluating a contextual policy from context-dependent adaptively collected data, leading to confidence intervals with correct coverage when existing estimators do not.
Abstract: Contextual bandit algorithms are increasingly replacing non-adaptive A/B tests in e-commerce, healthcare, and policymaking because they can both improve outcomes for study participants and increase the chance of identifying good or even best policies. To support credible inference on novel interventions at the end of the study, nonetheless, we still want to construct valid confidence intervals on average treatment effects, subgroup effects, or value of new policies. The adaptive nature of the data collected by contextual bandit algorithms, however, makes this difficult: standard estimators are no longer asymptotically normally distributed and classic confidence intervals fail to provide correct coverage. While this has been addressed in non-contextual settings by using stabilized estimators, variance stabilized estimators in the contextual setting pose unique challenges that we tackle for the first time in this paper. We propose the Contextual Adaptive Doubly Robust (CADR) estimator, a novel estimator for policy value that is asymptotically normal under contextual adaptive data collection. The main technical challenge in constructing CADR is designing adaptive and consistent conditional standard deviation estimators for stabilization. Extensive numerical experiments using 57 OpenML datasets demonstrate that confidence intervals based on CADR uniquely provide correct coverage.
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