Reinforcement Learning Theory 2

Moderator: Zhaoran Wang


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Wed 21 July 17:00 - 17:20 PDT
Exponential Lower Bounds for Batch Reinforcement Learning: Batch RL can be Exponentially Harder than Online RL

Andrea Zanette

Several practical applications of reinforcement learning involve an agent learning from past data without the possibility of further exploration. Often these applications require us to 1) identify a near optimal policy or to 2) estimate the value of a target policy. For both tasks we derive exponential information-theoretic lower bounds in discounted infinite horizon MDPs with a linear function representation for the action value function even if 1) realizability holds, 2) the batch algorithm observes the exact reward and transition functions, and 3) the batch algorithm is given the best a priori data distribution for the problem class. Our work introduces a new `oracle + batch algorithm' framework to prove lower bounds that hold for every distribution. The work shows an exponential separation between batch and online reinforcement learning.

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Wed 21 July 17:20 - 17:25 PDT
Provably Efficient Reinforcement Learning for Discounted MDPs with Feature Mapping

Dongruo Zhou · Jiafan He · Quanquan Gu

Modern tasks in reinforcement learning have large state and action spaces. To deal with them efficiently, one often uses predefined feature mapping to represent states and actions in a low dimensional space. In this paper, we study reinforcement learning for discounted Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), where the transition kernel can be parameterized as a linear function of certain feature mapping. We propose a novel algorithm which makes use of the feature mapping and obtains a $\tilde O(d\sqrt{T}/(1-\gamma)^2)$ regret, where $d$ is the dimension of the feature space, $T$ is the time horizon and $\gamma$ is the discount factor of the MDP. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first polynomial regret bound without accessing a generative model or making strong assumptions such as ergodicity of the MDP. By constructing a special class of MDPs, we also show that for any algorithms, the regret is lower bounded by $\Omega(d\sqrt{T}/(1-\gamma)^{1.5})$. Our upper and lower bound results together suggest that the proposed reinforcement learning algorithm is near-optimal up to a $(1-\gamma)^{-0.5}$ factor.

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Wed 21 July 17:25 - 17:30 PDT
Confidence-Budget Matching for Sequential Budgeted Learning

Yonathan Efroni · Nadav Merlis · Aadirupa Saha · Shie Mannor

A core element in decision-making under uncertainty is the feedback on the quality of the performed actions. However, in many applications, such feedback is restricted. For example, in recommendation systems, repeatedly asking the user to provide feedback on the quality of recommendations will annoy them. In this work, we formalize decision-making problems with querying budget, where there is a (possibly time-dependent) hard limit on the number of reward queries allowed. Specifically, we focus on multi-armed bandits, linear contextual bandits, and reinforcement learning problems. We start by analyzing the performance of `greedy' algorithms that query a reward whenever they can. We show that in fully stochastic settings, doing so performs surprisingly well, but in the presence of any adversity, this might lead to linear regret. To overcome this issue, we propose the Confidence-Budget Matching (CBM) principle that queries rewards when the confidence intervals are wider than the inverse square root of the available budget. We analyze the performance of CBM based algorithms in different settings and show that it performs well in the presence of adversity in the contexts, initial states, and budgets.

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Wed 21 July 17:30 - 17:35 PDT
Sample Efficient Reinforcement Learning In Continuous State Spaces: A Perspective Beyond Linearity

Dhruv Malik · Aldo Pacchiano · Vishwak Srinivasan · Yuanzhi Li

Reinforcement learning (RL) is empirically successful in complex nonlinear Markov decision processes (MDPs) with continuous state spaces. By contrast, the majority of theoretical RL literature requires the MDP to satisfy some form of linear structure, in order to guarantee sample efficient RL. Such efforts typically assume the transition dynamics or value function of the MDP are described by linear functions of the state features. To resolve this discrepancy between theory and practice, we introduce the Effective Planning Window (EPW) condition, a structural condition on MDPs that makes no linearity assumptions. We demonstrate that the EPW condition permits sample efficient RL, by providing an algorithm which provably solves MDPs satisfying this condition. Our algorithm requires minimal assumptions on the policy class, which can include multi-layer neural networks with nonlinear activation functions. Notably, the EPW condition is directly motivated by popular gaming benchmarks, and we show that many classic Atari games satisfy this condition. We additionally show the necessity of conditions like EPW, by demonstrating that simple MDPs with slight nonlinearities cannot be solved sample efficiently.

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Wed 21 July 17:35 - 17:40 PDT
Sparse Feature Selection Makes Batch Reinforcement Learning More Sample Efficient

Botao Hao · Yaqi Duan · Tor Lattimore · Csaba Szepesvari · Mengdi Wang

This paper provides a statistical analysis of high-dimensional batch reinforcement learning (RL) using sparse linear function approximation. When there is a large number of candidate features, our result sheds light on the fact that sparsity-aware methods can make batch RL more sample efficient. We first consider the off-policy policy evaluation problem. To evaluate a new target policy, we analyze a Lasso fitted Q-evaluation method and establish a finite-sample error bound that has no polynomial dependence on the ambient dimension. To reduce the Lasso bias, we further propose a post model-selection estimator that applies fitted Q-evaluation to the features selected via group Lasso. Under an additional signal strength assumption, we derive a sharper instance-dependent error bound that depends on a divergence function measuring the distribution mismatch between the data distribution and occupancy measure of the target policy. Further, we study the Lasso fitted Q-iteration for batch policy optimization and establish a finite-sample error bound depending on the ratio between the number of relevant features and restricted minimal eigenvalue of the data's covariance. In the end, we complement the results with minimax lower bounds for batch-data policy evaluation/optimization that nearly match our upper bounds. The results suggest that having well-conditioned data is crucial for sparse batch policy learning.

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Wed 21 July 17:40 - 17:45 PDT
Robust Policy Gradient against Strong Data Corruption

Xuezhou Zhang · Yiding Chen · Jerry Zhu · Wen Sun

We study the problem of robust reinforcement learning under adversarial corruption on both rewards and transitions. Our attack model assumes an \textit{adaptive} adversary who can arbitrarily corrupt the reward and transition at every step within an episode, for at most $\epsilon$-fraction of the learning episodes. Our attack model is strictly stronger than those considered in prior works. Our first result shows that no algorithm can find a better than $O(\epsilon)$-optimal policy under our attack model. Next, we show that surprisingly the natural policy gradient (NPG) method retains a natural robustness property if the reward corruption is bounded, and can find an $O(\sqrt{\epsilon})$-optimal policy. Consequently, we develop a Filtered Policy Gradient (FPG) algorithm that can tolerate even unbounded reward corruption and can find an $O(\epsilon^{1/4})$-optimal policy. We emphasize that FPG is the first that can achieve a meaningful learning guarantee when a constant fraction of episodes are corrupted. Complimentary to the theoretical results, we show that a neural implementation of FPG achieves strong robust learning performance on the MuJoCo continuous control benchmarks.

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Wed 21 July 17:45 - 17:50 PDT
Logarithmic Regret for Reinforcement Learning with Linear Function Approximation

Jiafan He · Dongruo Zhou · Quanquan Gu

Reinforcement learning (RL) with linear function approximation has received increasing attention recently. However, existing work has focused on obtaining $\sqrt{T}$-type regret bound, where $T$ is the number of interactions with the MDP. In this paper, we show that logarithmic regret is attainable under two recently proposed linear MDP assumptions provided that there exists a positive sub-optimality gap for the optimal action-value function. More specifically, under the linear MDP assumption (Jin et al., 2020), the LSVI-UCB algorithm can achieve $\tilde{O}(d^{3}H^5/\text{gap}_{\text{min}}\cdot \log(T))$regret; and under the linear mixture MDP assumption (Ayoub et al., 2020), the UCRL-VTR algorithm can achieve $\tilde{O}(d^{2}H^5/\text{gap}_{\text{min}}\cdot \log^3(T))$ regret, where $d$ is the dimension of feature mapping, $H$ is the length of episode, $\text{gap}_{\text{min}}$ is the minimal sub-optimality gap, and $\tilde O$ hides all logarithmic terms except $\log(T)$. To the best of our knowledge, these are the first logarithmic regret bounds for RL with linear function approximation. We also establish gap-dependent lower bounds for the two linear MDP models.

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Wed 21 July 17:50 - 17:55 PDT

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