Moderator: Ran Gilad-Bachrach

Abstract:

Thu 22 July 6:00 - 6:20 PDT

(Oral)

Rui Liu · Alex Olshevsky

Temporal difference learning with linear function approximation is a popular method to obtain a low-dimensional approximation of the value function of a policy in a Markov Decision Process. We provide an interpretation of this method in terms of a splitting of the gradient of an appropriately chosen function. As a consequence of this interpretation, convergence proofs for gradient descent can be applied almost verbatim to temporal difference learning. Beyond giving a fuller explanation of why temporal difference works, this interpretation also yields improved convergence times. We consider the setting with $1/\sqrt{T}$ step-size, where previous comparable finite-time convergence time bounds for temporal difference learning had the multiplicative factor $1/(1-\gamma)$ in front of the bound, with $\gamma$ being the discount factor. We show that a minor variation on TD learning which estimates the mean of the value function separately has a convergence time where $1/(1-\gamma)$ only multiplies an asymptotically negligible term.

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Thu 22 July 6:20 - 6:25 PDT

(Spotlight)

Julien Grand-Clement · Christian Kroer

Markov decision processes (MDPs) are known to be sensitive to parameter specification. Distributionally robust MDPs alleviate this issue by allowing for \textit{ambiguity sets} which give a set of possible distributions over parameter sets. The goal is to find an optimal policy with respect to the worst-case parameter distribution. We propose a framework for solving Distributionally robust MDPs via first-order methods, and instantiate it for several types of Wasserstein ambiguity sets. By developing efficient proximal updates, our algorithms achieve a convergence rate of $O\left(NA^{2.5}S^{3.5}\log(S)\log(\epsilon^{-1})\epsilon^{-1.5} \right)$ for the number of kernels $N$ in the support of the nominal distribution, states $S$, and actions $A$; this rate varies slightly based on the Wasserstein setup. Our dependence on $N,A$ and $S$ is significantly better than existing methods, which have a complexity of $O\left(N^{3.5}A^{3.5}S^{4.5}\log^{2}(\epsilon^{-1}) \right)$. Numerical experiments show that our algorithm is significantly more scalable than state-of-the-art approaches across several domains.

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Thu 22 July 6:25 - 6:30 PDT

(Spotlight)

Nikos Karampatziakis · Paul Mineiro · Aaditya Ramdas

We develop confidence bounds that hold uniformly over time for off-policy evaluation in the contextual bandit setting. These confidence sequences are based on recent ideas from martingale analysis and are non-asymptotic, non-parametric, and valid at arbitrary stopping times. We provide algorithms for computing these confidence sequences that strike a good balance between computational and statistical efficiency. We empirically demonstrate the tightness of our approach in terms of failure probability and width and apply it to the ``gated deployment'' problem of safely upgrading a production contextual bandit system.

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Thu 22 July 6:30 - 6:35 PDT

(Spotlight)

Aymen Al Marjani · Alexandre Proutiere

We investigate the problem of best-policy identification in discounted Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) when the learner has access to a generative model. The objective is to devise a learning algorithm returning the best policy as early as possible. We first derive a problem-specific lower bound of the sample complexity satisfied by any learning algorithm. This lower bound corresponds to an optimal sample allocation that solves a non-convex program, and hence, is hard to exploit in the design of efficient algorithms. We then provide a simple and tight upper bound of the sample complexity lower bound, whose corresponding nearly-optimal sample allocation becomes explicit. The upper bound depends on specific functionals of the MDP such as the sub-optimality gaps and the variance of the next-state value function, and thus really captures the hardness of the MDP. Finally, we devise KLB-TS (KL Ball Track-and-Stop), an algorithm tracking this nearly-optimal allocation, and provide asymptotic guarantees for its sample complexity (both almost surely and in expectation). The advantages of KLB-TS against state-of-the-art algorithms are discussed and illustrated numerically.

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Thu 22 July 6:35 - 6:40 PDT

(Spotlight)

Daochen Wang · Aarthi Sundaram · Robin Kothari · Ashish Kapoor · Martin Roetteler

Reinforcement learning studies how an agent should interact with an environment to maximize its cumulative reward. A standard way to study this question abstractly is to ask how many samples an agent needs from the environment to learn an optimal policy for a $\gamma$-discounted Markov decision process (MDP). For such an MDP, we design quantum algorithms that approximate an optimal policy ($\pi^*$), the optimal value function ($v^*$), and the optimal $Q$-function ($q^*$), assuming the algorithms can access samples from the environment in quantum superposition. This assumption is justified whenever there exists a simulator for the environment; for example, if the environment is a video game or some other program. Our quantum algorithms, inspired by value iteration, achieve quadratic speedups over the best-possible classical sample complexities in the approximation accuracy ($\epsilon$) and two main parameters of the MDP: the effective time horizon ($\frac{1}{1-\gamma}$) and the size of the action space ($A$). Moreover, we show that our quantum algorithm for computing $q^*$ is optimal by proving a matching quantum lower bound.

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Thu 22 July 6:40 - 6:45 PDT

(Spotlight)

Chris Nota · Philip Thomas · Bruno C. da Silva

Hindsight allows reinforcement learning agents to leverage new observations to make inferences about earlier states and transitions. In this paper, we exploit the idea of hindsight and introduce posterior value functions. Posterior value functions are computed by inferring the posterior distribution over hidden components of the state in previous timesteps and can be used to construct novel unbiased baselines for policy gradient methods. Importantly, we prove that these baselines reduce (and never increase) the variance of policy gradient estimators compared to traditional state value functions. While the posterior value function is motivated by partial observability, we extend these results to arbitrary stochastic MDPs by showing that hindsight-capable agents can model stochasticity in the environment as a special case of partial observability. Finally, we introduce a pair of methods for learning posterior value functions and prove their convergence.

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Thu 22 July 6:45 - 6:50 PDT

(Spotlight)

Mauro Maggioni · Jason Miller · Hongda Qiu · Ming Zhong

Interacting agent and particle systems are extensively used to model complex phenomena in science and engineering. We consider the problem of learning interaction kernels in these dynamical systems constrained to evolve on Riemannian manifolds from given trajectory data. The models we consider are based on interaction kernels depending on pairwise Riemannian distances between agents, with agents interacting locally along the direction of the shortest geodesic connecting them. We show that our estimators converge at a rate that is independent of the dimension of the state space, and derive bounds on the trajectory estimation error, on the manifold, between the observed and estimated dynamics. We demonstrate the performance of our estimator on two classical first order interacting systems: Opinion Dynamics and a Predator-Swarm system, with each system constrained on two prototypical manifolds, the $2$-dimensional sphere and the Poincar\'e disk model of hyperbolic space.

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