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

Ruiqi Zhang · Xuezhou Zhang · Chengzhuo Ni · Mengdi Wang

Room 301 - 303
[ Abstract ] [ Livestream: Visit Reinforcement Learning ]
[ Slides [ Paper PDF

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.

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