Practical Kernel-Based Reinforcement Learning

21 Jul 2014  ·  André M. S. Barreto, Doina Precup, Joelle Pineau ·

Kernel-based reinforcement learning (KBRL) stands out among reinforcement learning algorithms for its strong theoretical guarantees. By casting the learning problem as a local kernel approximation, KBRL provides a way of computing a decision policy which is statistically consistent and converges to a unique solution. Unfortunately, the model constructed by KBRL grows with the number of sample transitions, resulting in a computational cost that precludes its application to large-scale or on-line domains. In this paper we introduce an algorithm that turns KBRL into a practical reinforcement learning tool. Kernel-based stochastic factorization (KBSF) builds on a simple idea: when a transition matrix is represented as the product of two stochastic matrices, one can swap the factors of the multiplication to obtain another transition matrix, potentially much smaller, which retains some fundamental properties of its precursor. KBSF exploits such an insight to compress the information contained in KBRL's model into an approximator of fixed size. This makes it possible to build an approximation that takes into account both the difficulty of the problem and the associated computational cost. KBSF's computational complexity is linear in the number of sample transitions, which is the best one can do without discarding data. Moreover, the algorithm's simple mechanics allow for a fully incremental implementation that makes the amount of memory used independent of the number of sample transitions. The result is a kernel-based reinforcement learning algorithm that can be applied to large-scale problems in both off-line and on-line regimes. We derive upper bounds for the distance between the value functions computed by KBRL and KBSF using the same data. We also illustrate the potential of our algorithm in an extensive empirical study in which KBSF is applied to difficult tasks based on real-world data.

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