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Reinforcement Learning

Room 301 - 303

Moderator: Zhengling Qi


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Thu 21 July 10:30 - 10:50 PDT

Learning Bellman Complete Representations for Offline Policy Evaluation

Jonathan Chang · Kaiwen Wang · Nathan Kallus · Wen Sun

We study representation learning for Offline Reinforcement Learning (RL), focusing on the important task of Offline Policy Evaluation (OPE). Recent work shows that, in contrast to supervised learning, realizability of the Q-function is not enough for learning it. Two sufficient conditions for sample-efficient OPE are Bellman completeness and coverage. Prior work often assumes that representations satisfying these conditions are given, with results being mostly theoretical in nature. In this work, we propose BCRL, which directly learns from data an approximately linear Bellman complete representation with good coverage. With this learned representation, we perform OPE using Least Square Policy Evaluation (LSPE) with linear functions in our learned representation. We present an end-to-end theoretical analysis, showing that our two-stage algorithm enjoys polynomial sample complexity provided some representation in the rich class considered is linear Bellman complete. Empirically, we extensively evaluate our algorithm on challenging, image-based continuous control tasks from the Deepmind Control Suite. We show our representation enables better OPE compared to previous representation learning methods developed for off-policy RL (e.g., CURL, SPR). BCRL achieve competitive OPE error with the state-of-the-art method Fitted Q-Evaluation (FQE), and beats FQE when evaluating beyond the initial state distribution. Our ablations show that both linear Bellman complete and coverage components of our method are crucial.

Thu 21 July 10:50 - 10:55 PDT

Doubly Robust Distributionally Robust Off-Policy Evaluation and Learning

Nathan Kallus · Xiaojie Mao · Kaiwen Wang · Zhengyuan Zhou

Off-policy evaluation and learning (OPE/L) use offline observational data to make better decisions, which is crucial in applications where online experimentation is limited. However, depending entirely on logged data, OPE/L is sensitive to environment distribution shifts --- discrepancies between the data-generating environment and that where policies are deployed. Si et al., (2020) proposed distributionally robust OPE/L (DROPE/L) to address this, but the proposal relies on inverse-propensity weighting, whose estimation error and regret will deteriorate if propensities are nonparametrically estimated and whose variance is suboptimal even if not. For standard, non-robust, OPE/L, this is solved by doubly robust (DR) methods, but they do not naturally extend to the more complex DROPE/L, which involves a worst-case expectation. In this paper, we propose the first DR algorithms for DROPE/L with KL-divergence uncertainty sets. For evaluation, we propose Localized Doubly Robust DROPE (LDR$^2$OPE) and show that it achieves semiparametric efficiency under weak product rates conditions. Thanks to a localization technique, LDR$^2$OPE only requires fitting a small number of regressions, just like DR methods for standard OPE. For learning, we propose Continuum Doubly Robust DROPL (CDR$^2$OPL) and show that, under a product rate condition involving a continuum of regressions, it enjoys a fast regret rate of $O(N^{-1/2})$ even when unknown propensities are nonparametrically estimated. We empirically validate our algorithms in simulations and further extend our results to general $f$-divergence uncertainty sets.

Thu 21 July 10:55 - 11:00 PDT

A Simple Reward-free Approach to Constrained Reinforcement Learning

Sobhan Miryoosefi · Chi Jin

In constrained reinforcement learning (RL), a learning agent seeks to not only optimize the overall reward but also satisfy the additional safety, diversity, or budget constraints. Consequently, existing constrained RL solutions require several new algorithmic ingredients that are notably different from standard RL. On the other hand, reward-free RL is independently developed in the unconstrained literature, which learns the transition dynamics without using the reward information, and thus naturally capable of addressing RL with multiple objectives under the common dynamics. This paper bridges reward-free RL and constrained RL. Particularly, we propose a simple meta-algorithm such that given any reward-free RL oracle, the approachability and constrained RL problems can be directly solved with negligible overheads in sample complexity. Utilizing the existing reward-free RL solvers, our framework provides sharp sample complexity results for constrained RL in the tabular MDP setting, matching the best existing results up to a factor of horizon dependence; our framework directly extends to a setting of tabular two-player Markov games, and gives a new result for constrained RL with linear function approximation.

Thu 21 July 11:00 - 11:05 PDT

Versatile Offline Imitation from Observations and Examples via Regularized State-Occupancy Matching

Jason Yecheng Ma · Andrew Shen · Dinesh Jayaraman · Osbert Bastani

We propose State Matching Offline DIstribution Correction Estimation (SMODICE), a novel and versatile regression-based offline imitation learning algorithm derived via state-occupancy matching. We show that the SMODICE objective admits a simple optimization procedure through an application of Fenchel duality and an analytic solution in tabular MDPs. Without requiring access to expert actions, SMODICE can be effectively applied to three offline IL settings: (i) imitation from observations (IfO), (ii) IfO with dynamics or morphologically mismatched expert, and (iii) example-based reinforcement learning, which we show can be formulated as a state-occupancy matching problem. We extensively evaluate SMODICE on both gridworld environments as well as on high-dimensional offline benchmarks. Our results demonstrate that SMODICE is effective for all three problem settings and significantly outperforms prior state-of-art.

Thu 21 July 11:05 - 11:10 PDT

Temporal Difference Learning for Model Predictive Control

Nicklas Hansen · Hao Su · Xiaolong Wang

Data-driven model predictive control has two key advantages over model-free methods: a potential for improved sample efficiency through model learning, and better performance as computational budget for planning increases. However, it is both costly to plan over long horizons and challenging to obtain an accurate model of the environment. In this work, we combine the strengths of model-free and model-based methods. We use a learned task-oriented latent dynamics model for local trajectory optimization over a short horizon, and use a learned terminal value function to estimate long-term return, both of which are learned jointly by temporal difference learning. Our method, TD-MPC, achieves superior sample efficiency and asymptotic performance over prior work on both state and image-based continuous control tasks from DMControl and Meta-World. Code and videos are available at

Thu 21 July 11:10 - 11:15 PDT

Model Selection in Batch Policy Optimization

Jonathan Lee · George Tucker · Ofir Nachum · Bo Dai

We study the problem of model selection in batch policy optimization: given a fixed, partial-feedback dataset and M model classes, learn a policy with performance that is competitive with the policy derived from the best model class. We formalize the problem in the contextual bandit setting with linear model classes by identifying three sources of error that any model selection algorithm should optimally trade-off in order to be competitive: (1) approximation error, (2) statistical complexity, and (3) coverage. The first two sources are common in model selection for supervised learning, where optimally trading off these two is well-studied. In contrast, the third source is unique to batch policy optimization and is due to dataset shift inherent to the setting. We first show that no batch policy optimization algorithm can achieve a guarantee addressing all three simultaneously, revealing a stark contrast between difficulties in batch policy optimization and the positive results available in supervised learning. Despite this negative result, we show that relaxing any one of the three error sources enables the design of algorithms achieving near-oracle inequalities for the remaining two. We conclude with experiments demonstrating the efficacy of these algorithms.

Thu 21 July 11:15 - 11:35 PDT

Outstanding Paper Runner Up
Adversarially Trained Actor Critic for Offline Reinforcement Learning

Ching-An Cheng · Tengyang Xie · Nan Jiang · Alekh Agarwal

We propose Adversarially Trained Actor Critic (ATAC), a new model-free algorithm for offline reinforcement learning (RL) under insufficient data coverage, based on the concept of relative pessimism. ATAC is designed as a two-player Stackelberg game framing of offline RL: A policy actor competes against an adversarially trained value critic, who finds data-consistent scenarios where the actor is inferior to the data-collection behavior policy. We prove that, when the actor attains no regret in the two-player game, running ATAC produces a policy that provably 1) outperforms the behavior policy over a wide range of hyperparameters that control the degree of pessimism, and 2) competes with the best policy covered by data with appropriately chosen hyperparameters. Compared with existing works, notably our framework offers both theoretical guarantees for general function approximation and a deep RL implementation scalable to complex environments and large datasets. In the D4RL benchmark, ATAC consistently outperforms state-of-the-art offline RL algorithms on a range of continuous control tasks.

Thu 21 July 11:35 - 11:40 PDT

Optimal Estimation of Policy Gradient via Double Fitted Iteration

Chengzhuo Ni · Ruiqi Zhang · Xiang Ji · Xuezhou Zhang · Mengdi Wang

Policy gradient (PG) estimation becomes a challenge when we are not allowed to sample with the target policy but only have access to a dataset generated by some unknown behavior policy. Conventional methods for off-policy PG estimation often suffer from either significant bias or exponentially large variance. In this paper, we propose the double Fitted PG estimation (FPG) algorithm. FPG can work with an arbitrary policy parameterization, assuming access to a Bellman-complete value function class. In the case of linear value function approximation, we provide a tight finite-sample upper bound on policy gradient estimation error, that is governed by the amount of distribution mismatch measured in feature space. We also establish the asymptotic normality of FPG estimation error with a precise covariance characterization, which is further shown to be statistically optimal with a matching Cramer-Rao lower bound. Empirically, we evaluate the performance of FPG on both policy gradient estimation and policy optimization, using either softmax tabular or ReLU policy networks. Under various metrics, our results show that FPG significantly outperforms existing off-policy PG estimation methods based on importance sampling and variance reduction techniques.

Thu 21 July 11:40 - 11:45 PDT

Provably Efficient Offline Reinforcement Learning for Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes

Hongyi Guo · Qi Cai · Yufeng Zhang · Zhuoran Yang · Zhaoran Wang

We study offline reinforcement learning (RL) for partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) with possibly infinite state and observation spaces. Under the undercompleteness assumption, the optimal policy in such POMDPs are characterized by a class of finite-memory Bellman operators. In the offline setting, estimating these operators directly is challenging due to (i) the large observation space and (ii) insufficient coverage of the offline dataset. To tackle these challenges, we propose a novel algorithm that constructs confidence regions for these Bellman operators via offline estimation of their RKHS embeddings, and returns the final policy via pessimistic planning within the confidence regions. We prove that the proposed algorithm attains an (\epsilon)-optimal policy using an offline dataset containing (\tilde\cO(1 / \epsilon^2)) episodes, provided that the behavior policy has good coverage over the optimal trajectory. To our best knowledge, our algorithm is the first provably sample efficient offline algorithm for POMDPs without uniform coverage assumptions.

Thu 21 July 11:45 - 11:50 PDT

Off-Policy Fitted Q-Evaluation with Differentiable Function Approximators: Z-Estimation and Inference Theory

Ruiqi Zhang · Xuezhou Zhang · Chengzhuo Ni · Mengdi Wang

Off-Policy Evaluation (OPE) serves as one of the cornerstones in Reinforcement Learning (RL). Fitted Q Evaluation (FQE) with various function approximators, especially deep neural networks, has gained practical success. While statistical analysis has proved FQE to be minimax-optimal with tabular, linear and several nonparametric function families, its practical performance with more general function approximator is less theoretically understood. We focus on FQE with general \textit{differentiable function approximators}, making our theory applicable to neural function approximations. We approach this problem using the Z-estimation theory and establish the following results: The FQE estimation error is asymptotically normal with explicit variance determined jointly by the tangent space of the function class at the ground truth, the reward structure, and the distribution shift due to off-policy learning; The finite-sample FQE error bound is dominated by the same variance term, and it can also be bounded by function class-dependent divergence, which measures how the off-policy distribution shift intertwines with the function approximator. In addition, we study bootstrapping FQE estimators for error distribution inference and estimating confidence intervals, accompanied by a Cramer-Rao lower bound that matches our upper bounds. The Z-estimation analysis provides a generalizable theoretical framework for studying off-policy estimation in RL and provides sharp statistical theory for FQE with differentiable function approximators.

Thu 21 July 11:50 - 11:55 PDT

Lagrangian Method for Q-Function Learning (with Applications to Machine Translation)

Huang Bojun

This paper discusses a new approach to the fundamental problem of learning optimal Q-functions. In this approach, optimal Q-functions are formulated as saddle points of a nonlinear Lagrangian function derived from the classic Bellman optimality equation. The paper shows that the Lagrangian enjoys strong duality, in spite of its nonlinearity, which paves the way to a general Lagrangian method to Q-function learning. As a demonstration, the paper develops an imitation learning algorithm based on the duality theory, and applies the algorithm to a state-of-the-art machine translation benchmark. The paper then turns to demonstrate a symmetry breaking phenomenon regarding the optimality of the Lagrangian saddle points, which justifies a largely overlooked direction in developing the Lagrangian method.

Thu 21 July 11:55 - 12:00 PDT

On the Role of Discount Factor in Offline Reinforcement Learning

Hao Hu · yiqin yang · Qianchuan Zhao · Chongjie Zhang

Offline reinforcement learning (RL) enables effective learning from previously collected data without exploration, which shows great promise in real-world applications when exploration is expensive or even infeasible. The discount factor, $\gamma$, plays a vital role in improving online RL sample efficiency and estimation accuracy, but the role of the discount factor in offline RL is not well explored. This paper examines two distinct effects of $\gamma$ in offline RL with theoretical analysis, namely the regularization effect and the pessimism effect. On the one hand, $\gamma$ is a regulator to trade-off optimality with sample efficiency upon existing offline techniques. On the other hand, lower guidance $\gamma$ can also be seen as a way of pessimism where we optimize the policy's performance in the worst possible models. We empirically verify the above theoretical observation with tabular MDPs and standard D4RL tasks. The results show that the discount factor plays an essential role in the performance of offline RL algorithms, both under small data regimes upon existing offline methods and in large data regimes without other conservative methods.