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# Sub-Goal Trees a Framework for Goal-Based Reinforcement Learning

*Proceedings of the 37th International Conference on Machine Learning*, PMLR 119:5020-5030, 2020.

#### Abstract

Many AI problems, in robotics and other domains, are goal-directed, essentially seeking a trajectory leading to some goal state. Reinforcement learning (RL), building on Bellman’s optimality equation, naturally optimizes for a single goal, yet can be made goal-directed by augmenting the state with the goal. Instead, we propose a new RL framework, derived from a dynamic programming equation for the all pairs shortest path (APSP) problem, which naturally solves goal-directed queries. We show that this approach has computational benefits for both standard and approximate dynamic programming. Interestingly, our formulation prescribes a novel protocol for computing a trajectory: instead of predicting the next state given its predecessor, as in standard RL, a goal-conditioned trajectory is constructed by first predicting an intermediate state between start and goal, partitioning the trajectory into two. Then, recursively, predicting intermediate points on each sub-segment, until a complete trajectory is obtained. We call this trajectory structure a sub-goal tree. Building on it, we additionally extend the policy gradient methodology to recursively predict sub-goals, resulting in novel goal-based algorithms. Finally, we apply our method to neural motion planning, where we demonstrate significant improvements compared to standard RL on navigating a 7-DoF robot arm between obstacles.