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On Generalized Bellman Equations and Temporal-Difference Learning

Huizhen Yu, A. Rupam Mahmood, Richard S. Sutton; 19(48):1−49, 2018.


We consider off-policy temporal-difference (TD) learning in discounted Markov decision processes, where the goal is to evaluate a policy in a model-free way by using observations of a state process generated without executing the policy. To curb the high variance issue in off-policy TD learning, we propose a new scheme of setting the $\lambda$-parameters of TD, based on generalized Bellman equations. Our scheme is to set $\lambda$ according to the eligibility trace iterates calculated in TD, thereby easily keeping these traces in a desired bounded range. Compared with prior work, this scheme is more direct and flexible, and allows much larger $\lambda$ values for off-policy TD learning with bounded traces. As to its soundness, using Markov chain theory, we prove the ergodicity of the joint state-trace process under nonrestrictive conditions, and we show that associated with our scheme is a generalized Bellman equation (for the policy to be evaluated) that depends on both the evolution of $\lambda$ and the unique invariant probability measure of the state-trace process. These results not only lead immediately to a characterization of the convergence behavior of least-squares based implementation of our scheme, but also prepare the ground for further analysis of gradient-based implementations.

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