Constructing a Good Behavior Basis for Transfer using Generalized Policy Updates

ICLR 2022  ·  Safa Alver, Doina Precup ·

We study the problem of learning a good set of policies, so that when combined together, they can solve a wide variety of unseen reinforcement learning tasks with no or very little new data. Specifically, we consider the framework of generalized policy evaluation and improvement, in which the rewards for all tasks of interest are assumed to be expressible as a linear combination of a fixed set of features. We show theoretically that, under certain assumptions, having access to a specific set of diverse policies, which we call a set of independent policies, can allow for instantaneously achieving high-level performance on all possible downstream tasks which are typically more complex than the ones on which the agent was trained. Based on this theoretical analysis, we propose a simple algorithm that iteratively constructs this set of policies. In addition to empirically validating our theoretical results, we compare our approach with recently proposed diverse policy set construction methods and show that, while others fail, our approach is able to build a behavior basis that enables instantaneous transfer to all possible downstream tasks. We also show empirically that having access to a set of independent policies can better bootstrap the learning process on downstream tasks where the new reward function cannot be described as a linear combination of the features. Finally, we demonstrate how this policy set can be useful in a lifelong reinforcement learning setting.

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