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Truncating Trajectories in Monte Carlo Policy Evaluation: an Adaptive Approach

Riccardo Poiani · Nicole Nobili · Alberto Maria Metelli · Marcello Restelli

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1226


Policy evaluation via Monte Carlo (MC) simulation is at the core of many MC Reinforcement Learning (RL) algorithms (e.g., policy gradient methods). In this context, the designer of the learning system specifies an interaction budget that the agent usually spends by collecting trajectories of fixed length within a simulator. However, is this data collection strategy the best option? To answer this question, in this paper, we consider as quality index the variance of an unbiased policy return estimator that uses trajectories of different lengths, i.e., truncated. We first derive a closed-form expression of this variance that clearly shows the sub-optimality of the fixed-length trajectory schedule. Furthermore, it suggests that adaptive data collection strategies that spend the available budget sequentially might be able to allocate a larger portion of transitions in timesteps in which more accurate sampling is required to reduce the variance of the final estimate. Building on these findings, we present an adaptive algorithm called Robust and Iterative Data collection strategy Optimization (RIDO). The main intuition behind RIDO is to split the available interaction budget into mini-batches. At each round, the agent determines the most convenient schedule of trajectories that minimizes an empirical and robust estimate of the estimator's variance. After discussing the theoretical properties of our method, we conclude by assessing its performance across multiple domains. Our results show that RIDO can adapt its trajectory schedule toward timesteps where more sampling is required to increase the quality of the final estimation.

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