Regularized Online Allocation Problems: Fairness and Beyond

Online allocation problems with resource constraints have a rich history in operations research. In this paper, we introduce the \emph{regularized online allocation problem}, a variant that includes a non-linear regularizer acting on the total resource consumption. In this problem, requests repeatedly arrive over time and, for each request, a decision maker needs to take an action that generates a reward and consumes resources. The objective is to simultaneously maximize additively separable rewards and the value of a non-separable regularizer subject to the resource constraints. Our primary motivation is allowing decision makers to trade off separable objectives such as the economic efficiency of an allocation with ancillary, non-separable objectives such as the fairness or equity of an allocation. We design an algorithm that is simple, fast, and attains good performance with both stochastic i.i.d.~and adversarial inputs. In particular, our algorithm is asymptotically optimal under stochastic i.i.d. input models and attains a fixed competitive ratio that depends on the regularizer when the input is adversarial. Furthermore, the algorithm and analysis do not require convexity or concavity of the reward function and the consumption function, which allows more model flexibility. Numerical experiments confirm the effectiveness of the proposed algorithm and of regularization in an internet advertising application.

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