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Reinforcement Learning for Slate-based Recommender Systems: A Tractable Decomposition and Practical Methodology

Vihan Jain
Jing Wang
Sanmit Narvekar
Ritesh Agarwal
Rui Wu
Morgane Lustman
Vince Gatto
Paul Covington
Jim McFadden
arXiv (2019)


Most practical recommender systems focus on estimating immediate user engagement without considering the long-term effects of recommendations on user behavior. Reinforcement learning (RL) methods offer the potential to optimize recommendations for long-term user engagement. However, since users are often presented with slates of multiple items---which may have interacting effects on user choice---methods are required to deal with the combinatorics of the RL action space. In this work, we address the challenge of making slate-based recommendations to optimize long-term value using RL. Our contributions are three-fold. (i) We develop SlateQ, a decomposition of value-based temporal-difference and Q-learning that renders RL tractable with slates. Under mild assumptions on user-choice behavior, we show that the long-term value (LTV) of a slate can be decomposed into a tractable function of its component item-wise LTVs. (ii) We outline a methodology that leverages existing myopic learning-based recommenders to quickly develop a recommender that handles LTV. (iii) We demonstrate our methods in simulation, and validate the scalability of decomposed TD-learning using SlateQ in live experiments on YouTube.

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