Pessimistic Causal Reinforcement Learning with Mediators for Confounded Offline Data

18 Mar 2024  ·  Danyang Wang, Chengchun Shi, Shikai Luo, Will Wei Sun ·

In real-world scenarios, datasets collected from randomized experiments are often constrained by size, due to limitations in time and budget. As a result, leveraging large observational datasets becomes a more attractive option for achieving high-quality policy learning. However, most existing offline reinforcement learning (RL) methods depend on two key assumptions--unconfoundedness and positivity--which frequently do not hold in observational data contexts. Recognizing these challenges, we propose a novel policy learning algorithm, PESsimistic CAusal Learning (PESCAL). We utilize the mediator variable based on front-door criterion to remove the confounding bias; additionally, we adopt the pessimistic principle to address the distributional shift between the action distributions induced by candidate policies, and the behavior policy that generates the observational data. Our key observation is that, by incorporating auxiliary variables that mediate the effect of actions on system dynamics, it is sufficient to learn a lower bound of the mediator distribution function, instead of the Q-function, to partially mitigate the issue of distributional shift. This insight significantly simplifies our algorithm, by circumventing the challenging task of sequential uncertainty quantification for the estimated Q-function. Moreover, we provide theoretical guarantees for the algorithms we propose, and demonstrate their efficacy through simulations, as well as real-world experiments utilizing offline datasets from a leading ride-hailing platform.

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