Optimizing Expectation with Guarantees in POMDPs (Technical Report)

A standard objective in partially-observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs) is to find a policy that maximizes the expected discounted-sum payoff. However, such policies may still permit unlikely but highly undesirable outcomes, which is problematic especially in safety-critical applications. Recently, there has been a surge of interest in POMDPs where the goal is to maximize the probability to ensure that the payoff is at least a given threshold, but these approaches do not consider any optimization beyond satisfying this threshold constraint. In this work we go beyond both the "expectation" and "threshold" approaches and consider a "guaranteed payoff optimization (GPO)" problem for POMDPs, where we are given a threshold $t$ and the objective is to find a policy $\sigma$ such that a) each possible outcome of $\sigma$ yields a discounted-sum payoff of at least $t$, and b) the expected discounted-sum payoff of $\sigma$ is optimal (or near-optimal) among all policies satisfying a). We present a practical approach to tackle the GPO problem and evaluate it on standard POMDP benchmarks.

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