The exploration/exploitation (E&E) dilemma lies at the core of interactive systems such as online advertising, for which contextual bandit algorithms have been proposed. Bayesian approaches provide guided exploration with principled uncertainty estimation, but the applicability is often limited due to over-simplified assumptions. Non-Bayesian bootstrap methods, on the other hand, can apply to complex problems by using deep reward models, but lacks clear guidance to the exploration behavior. It still remains largely unsolved to develop a practical method for complex deep contextual bandits. In this paper, we introduce Guided Bootstrap (GuideBoot for short), combining the best of both worlds. GuideBoot provides explicit guidance to the exploration behavior by training multiple models over both real samples and noisy samples with fake labels, where the noise is added according to the predictive uncertainty. The proposed method is efficient as it can make decisions on-the-fly by utilizing only one randomly chosen model, but is also effective as we show that it can be viewed as a non-Bayesian approximation of Thompson sampling. Moreover, we extend it to an online version that can learn solely from streaming data, which is favored in real applications. Extensive experiments on both synthetic task and large-scale advertising environments show that GuideBoot achieves significant improvements against previous state-of-the-art methods.

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