Theses Doctoral

Approximate dynamic programming for large scale systems

Desai, Vijay V.

Sequential decision making under uncertainty is at the heart of a wide variety of practical problems. These problems can be cast as dynamic programs and the optimal value function can be computed by solving Bellman's equation. However, this approach is limited in its applicability. As the number of state variables increases, the state space size grows exponentially, a phenomenon known as the curse of dimensionality, rendering the standard dynamic programming approach impractical. An effective way of addressing curse of dimensionality is through parameterized value function approximation. Such an approximation is determined by relatively small number of parameters and serves as an estimate of the optimal value function. But in order for this approach to be effective, we need Approximate Dynamic Programming (ADP) algorithms that can deliver `good' approximation to the optimal value function and such an approximation can then be used to derive policies for effective decision-making. From a practical standpoint, in order to assess the effectiveness of such an approximation, there is also a need for methods that give a sense for the suboptimality of a policy. This thesis is an attempt to address both these issues. First, we introduce a new ADP algorithm based on linear programming, to compute value function approximations. LP approaches to approximate DP have typically relied on a natural `projection' of a well studied linear program for exact dynamic programming. Such programs restrict attention to approximations that are lower bounds to the optimal cost-to-go function. Our program -- the `smoothed approximate linear program' -- is distinct from such approaches and relaxes the restriction to lower bounding approximations in an appropriate fashion while remaining computationally tractable. The resulting program enjoys strong approximation guarantees and is shown to perform well in numerical experiments with the game of Tetris and queueing network control problem. Next, we consider optimal stopping problems with applications to pricing of high-dimensional American options. We introduce the pathwise optimization (PO) method: a new convex optimization procedure to produce upper and lower bounds on the optimal value (the `price') of high-dimensional optimal stopping problems. The PO method builds on a dual characterization of optimal stopping problems as optimization problems over the space of martingales, which we dub the martingale duality approach. We demonstrate via numerical experiments that the PO method produces upper bounds and lower bounds (via suboptimal exercise policies) of a quality comparable with state-of-the-art approaches. Further, we develop an approximation theory relevant to martingale duality approaches in general and the PO method in particular. Finally, we consider a broad class of MDPs and introduce a new tractable method for computing bounds by consider information relaxation and introducing penalty. The method delivers tight bounds by identifying the best penalty function among a parameterized class of penalty functions. We implement our method on a high-dimensional financial application, namely, optimal execution and demonstrate the practical value of the method vis-a-vis competing methods available in the literature. In addition, we provide theory to show that bounds generated by our method are provably tighter than some of the other available approaches.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Industrial Engineering and Operations Research
Thesis Advisors
Moallemi, Ciamac Cyrus
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 28, 2013