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Practical Kernel-Based Reinforcement Learning

AndrĂ© M.S. Barreto, Doina Precup, Joelle Pineau; 17(67):1−70, 2016.


Kernel-based reinforcement learning (KBRL) stands out among approximate 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 converges to a unique solution and is statistically consistent. 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 probability 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 than the original, 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 considering 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 prove that it is possible to control the magnitude of the variables appearing in our bounds, which means that, given enough computational resources, we can make KBSF's value function as close as desired to the value function that would be computed by KBRL using the same set of sample transitions. The potential of our algorithm is demonstrated in an extensive empirical study in which KBSF is applied to difficult tasks based on real-world data. Not only does KBSF solve problems that had never been solved before, but it also significantly outperforms other state-of-the-art reinforcement learning algorithms on the tasks studied.

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