DOPE: Doubly Optimistic and Pessimistic Exploration for Safe Reinforcement Learning

Safe reinforcement learning is extremely challenging--not only must the agent explore an unknown environment, it must do so while ensuring no safety constraint violations. We formulate this safe reinforcement learning (RL) problem using the framework of a finite-horizon Constrained Markov Decision Process (CMDP) with an unknown transition probability function, where we model the safety requirements as constraints on the expected cumulative costs that must be satisfied during all episodes of learning. We propose a model-based safe RL algorithm that we call Doubly Optimistic and Pessimistic Exploration (DOPE), and show that it achieves an objective regret $\tilde{O}(|\mathcal{S}|\sqrt{|\mathcal{A}| K})$ without violating the safety constraints during learning, where $|\mathcal{S}|$ is the number of states, $|\mathcal{A}|$ is the number of actions, and $K$ is the number of learning episodes. Our key idea is to combine a reward bonus for exploration (optimism) with a conservative constraint (pessimism), in addition to the standard optimistic model-based exploration. DOPE is not only able to improve the objective regret bound, but also shows a significant empirical performance improvement as compared to earlier optimism-pessimism approaches.

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