Rylan Schaeffer

Kernel Papers


Let \(Z_0, Z_1, ...\) be a sequence of real-valued random variables and let \(X_0, X_1, ...\) be a sequence of random variables. We say that \(\{Z_t\}\) is a martingale with respect to \(\{X_t\}\) if the following hold for all \(t \geq 0\):

  1. \(Z_t\) is a function of \(X_0, ..., X_t\)
  2. \[\mathbb{E}[|Z_t|] < \infty\]
  3. \[\mathbb{E}[Z_t | X_0, ..., X_{t-1}] = Z_t\]

Example: Suppose \(X_t\) is the outcome of a fair coin flip. Every heads, you win $1, and every tails, you lose $1. Let \(Z_t\) be the total money at time \(t\). This satisfies the 3 requirements to be a martingale.

Doob Martingale

Let \(A\) be a r.v. and \(\{X_t\}\) a sequence of random variables. The Doob martingale of \(A\) w.r.t. \(\{ X_t \}\) is a sequence \(\{ Z_t \}\) given by:

\[Z_t = \mathbb{E}[A | X_0, ..., X_t]\]

Doob martingales are often useful when some quantity is “uncovered” over time or more information is gained over time.

Example: Suppose we have \(m\) balls and \(n\) bins and \(A\) is the number of empty bins after \(m\) balls are dropped. Let \(X_t\) be the location of the \(t\)th ball. Then \(Z_0 = \mathbb{E}[A]\) and \(Z_t = \mathbb{E}[A | X_0, ..., X_t]\).

Martingale Stopping Time Theorem

Suppose \(Z_0, Z_1, ...\) is a martingale w.r.t. \(X_0, X_1, ...\). Then \(\forall t \geq 0\), \(\mathbb{E}[Z_t] = \mathbb{E}[Z_0]\).

Proof: $$\mathbb{E}[Z_1] = \mathbb{E}[\mathbb{E}[Z_1 X_0]] = \mathbb{E}[Z_0]$$

However, the above does not hold if $t$ is a random variable. To see why, consider 0/1 coin flips where \(Z_t\) increments if \(X_t\) is heads and decrements if \(X_t\) is tails. \(T\) = 1st time \(t\) such that \(|Z_t| = 10\). Here, \(\mathbb{E}[Z_T] = 10/2 + (-10)/2 = \mathbb{E}[Z_0]\). All good! But now consider \(T'\) = 1st time \(t\) such that \(Z_t = 10\). Here, \(\mathbb{E}[Z_{T'}] = 10 \neq \mathbb{E}[Z_0]\). What happened? The problem is that \(T, T'\) are random variables, meaning it’s not automatically true that \(\mathbb{E}[Z_T] = \mathbb{E}[Z_0]\).

This raises the question of: what is the difference between \(T, T'\)? Is there a principled way to say when \(\mathbb{E}[Z_T] = \mathbb{E}[Z_0]\)?

Stopping Time

Given a discrete time process \(\{ X_t \}\), an integer-valued random variable \(T\) is called the stopping time for \(\{ X_t \}\) if the event that \(T=i\) is mutually independent from all events \(\{X_j | X_0, ..., X_i\}\) for all \(j > i\). Intuitively, this means \(T=i\) depends only on \(X_0, ..., X_i\) and nothing after.


  1. \(T_1 = min \{t: Z_t = 10 \}\) is a valid stopping time
  2. $$T_2 = min {t: Z_t = 10 }$$ is a valid stopping time
  3. \(T_2 = max \{t: Z_t = 10 \}\) is not a valid stopping time, since it depends on information after \(t\)

Theorem: Let \(\{Z_t\}\) be a martingale w.r.t. \(\{X_t\}\). Let \(T\) be the stopping time. Then \(\mathbb{E}[Z_T] = \mathbb{E}[Z_0]\) if any of the following hold:

  1. \(\exists\) constant \(c\) such that $$\forall i, Z_i < c$$
  2. \(\exists\) constant \(c\) such that, with probability 1, \(T < c\)
  3. \(\exists\) constant \(c\) such that \(\forall i\), \(\mathbb{E}[T] < \infty\) and $$\mathbb{E}[ Z_{i+1} - Z_i \Big\lvert X_0, …, X_i]$$

Returning to Examples

Returning to the first of the above 2 examples, define \(\Tilde{Z}_t\) equal to \(Z_t\) for \(t \leq T\) and \(Z_T\) for \(t > T\). From this construction, we know that \(\mathbb{E}[Z_T] = \mathbb{E}[\Tilde{Z_T}]\). We can then apply the stopping time theorem under condition 1 by choosing \(c=11\). In the second example, none of the three conditions apply. The intuition is that \(Z_t\) might wander off to \(-\infty\) without ever hitting 10.