Discovering symbolic policies with deep reinforcement learning

Mikel Landajuela Larma · Brenden Petersen · Sookyung Kim · Claudio Santiago · Ruben Glatt · Nathan Mundhenk · Jacob Pettit · Daniel Faissol

Deep reinforcement learning (DRL) has proven successful for many difficult control problems by learning policies represented by neural networks. However, the complexity of neural network-based policies—involving thousands of composed non-linear operators—can render them problematic to understand, trust, and deploy. In contrast, simple policies comprising short symbolic expressions can facilitate human understanding, while also being transparent and exhibiting predictable behavior. To this end, we propose deep symbolic policy, a novel approach to directly search the space of symbolic policies. We use an autoregressive recurrent neural network to generate control policies represented by tractable mathematical expressions, employing a risk-seeking policy gradient to maximize performance of the generated policies. To scale to environments with multi-dimensional action spaces, we propose an "anchoring" algorithm that distills pre-trained neural network-based policies into fully symbolic policies, one action dimension at a time. We also introduce two novel methods to improve exploration in DRL-based combinatorial optimization, building on ideas of entropy regularization and distribution initialization. Despite their dramatically reduced complexity, we demonstrate that discovered symbolic policies outperform seven state-of-the-art DRL algorithms in terms of average rank and average normalized episodic reward across eight benchmark environments.

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