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Optimistic Natural Policy Gradient: a Simple Efficient Policy Optimization Framework for Online RL

Qinghua Liu · Gellert Weisz · András György · Chi Jin · Csaba Szepesvari

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1822

Abstract: While policy optimization algorithms have played an important role in recent empirical success of Reinforcement Learning (RL), the existing theoretical understanding of policy optimization remains rather limited---they are either restricted to tabular MDPs or suffer from highly suboptimal sample complexity, especial in online RL where exploration is necessary. This paper proposes a simple efficient policy optimization framework---Optimistic NPG for online RL. Optimistic NPG can be viewed as simply combining of the classic natural policy gradient (NPG) algorithm [Kakade, 2001] with optimistic policy evaluation subroutines to encourage exploration. For $d$-dimensional linear MDPs, Optimistic NPG is computationally efficient, and learns an $\epsilon$-optimal policy within $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(d^2/\epsilon^3)$ samples, which is the first computationally efficient algorithm whose sample complexity has the optimal dimension dependence $\tilde{\Theta}(d^2)$. It also improves over state-of-the-art results of policy optimization algorithms [Zanette et al., 2021] by a factor of $d$. For general function approximation that subsumes linear MDPs, Optimistic NPG, to our best knowledge, is also the first policy optimization algorithm that achieves the polynomial sample complexity for learning near-optimal policies.

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