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Oral Session

Oral 1A RL

Hall C2 (level 1 gate 9 south of food court)

Tue 12 Dec. 8:00 - 8:15 PST

Ordering-based Conditions for Global Convergence of Policy Gradient Methods

Jincheng Mei · Bo Dai · Alekh Agarwal · Mohammad Ghavamzadeh · Csaba Szepesvari · Dale Schuurmans

We prove that, for finite-arm bandits with linear function approximation, the global convergence of policy gradient (PG) methods depends on inter-related properties between the policy update and the representation. textcolor{blue}{First}, we establish a few key observations that frame the study: \textbf{(i)} Global convergence can be achieved under linear function approximation without policy or reward realizability, both for the standard Softmax PG and natural policy gradient (NPG). \textbf{(ii)} Approximation error is not a key quantity for characterizing global convergence in either algorithm. \textbf{(iii)} The conditions on the representation that imply global convergence are different between these two algorithms. Overall, these observations call into question approximation error as an appropriate quantity for characterizing the global convergence of PG methods under linear function approximation. \textcolor{blue}{Second}, motivated by these observations, we establish new general results: \textbf{(i)} NPG with linear function approximation achieves global convergence \emph{if and only if} the projection of the reward onto the representable space preserves the optimal action's rank, a quantity that is not strongly related to approximation error. \textbf{(ii)} The global convergence of Softmax PG occurs if the representation satisfies a non-domination condition and can preserve the ranking of rewards, which goes well beyond policy or reward realizability. We provide experimental results to support these theoretical findings.

Tue 12 Dec. 8:15 - 8:30 PST

When Demonstrations meet Generative World Models: A Maximum Likelihood Framework for Offline Inverse Reinforcement Learning

Siliang Zeng · Chenliang Li · Alfredo Garcia · Mingyi Hong

Offline inverse reinforcement learning (Offline IRL) aims to recover the structure of rewards and environment dynamics that underlie observed actions in a fixed, finite set of demonstrations from an expert agent. Accurate models of expertise in executing a task has applications in safety-sensitive applications such as clinical decision making and autonomous driving. However, the structure of an expert's preferences implicit in observed actions is closely linked to the expert's model of the environment dynamics (i.e. the ``world''). Thus, inaccurate models of the world obtained from finite data with limited coverage could compound inaccuracy in estimated rewards. To address this issue, we propose a bi-level optimization formulation of the estimation task wherein the upper level is likelihood maximization based upon a conservative model of the expert's policy (lower level). The policy model is conservative in that it maximizes reward subject to a penalty that is increasing in the uncertainty of the estimated model of the world. We propose a new algorithmic framework to solve the bi-level optimization problem formulation and provide statistical and computational guarantees of performance for the associated optimal reward estimator. Finally, we demonstrate that the proposed algorithm outperforms the state-of-the-art offline IRL and imitation learning benchmarks by a large margin, over the continuous control tasks in MuJoCo and different datasets in the D4RL benchmark.

Tue 12 Dec. 8:30 - 8:45 PST

Online RL in Linearly $q^\pi$-Realizable MDPs Is as Easy as in Linear MDPs If You Learn What to Ignore

Gellert Weisz · András György · Csaba Szepesvari

We consider online reinforcement learning (RL) in episodic Markov decision processes (MDPs) under the linear $q^\pi$-realizability assumption, where it is assumed that the action-values of all policies can be expressed as linear functions of state-action features. This class is known to be more general than linear MDPs, where the transition kernel and the reward function are assumed to be linear functions of the feature vectors. As our first contribution, we show that the difference between the two classes is the presence of states in linearly $q^\pi$-realizable MDPs where for any policy, all the actions have approximately equal values, and skipping over these states by following an arbitrarily fixed policy in those states transforms the problem to a linear MDP. Based on this observation, we derive a novel (computationally inefficient) learning algorithm for linearly $q^\pi$-realizable MDPs that simultaneously learns what states should be skipped over and runs another learning algorithm on the linear MDP hidden in the problem. The method returns an $\epsilon$-optimal policy after $\text{polylog}(H, d)/\epsilon^2$ interactions with the MDP, where $H$ is the time horizon and $d$ is the dimension of the feature vectors, giving the first polynomial-sample-complexity online RL algorithm for this setting. The results are proved for the misspecified case, where the sample complexity is shown to degrade gracefully with the misspecification error.