A new Q(lambda) with interim forward view and Monte Carlo equivalence

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Rich Sutton, Ashique Rupam Mahmood, Doina Precup, Hado Hasselt ;
Proceedings of the 31st International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 32(2):568-576, 2014.

Abstract

Q-learning, the most popular of reinforcement learning algorithms, has always included an extension to eligibility traces to enable more rapid learning and improved asymptotic performance on non-Markov problems. The lambda parameter smoothly shifts on-policy algorithms such as TD(lambda) and Sarsa(lambda) from a pure bootstrapping form (lambda=0) to a pure Monte Carlo form (lambda=1). In off-policy algorithms, including Q(lambda), GQ(lambda), and off-policy LSTD(lambda), the lambda parameter is intended to play the same role, but does not; on every exploratory action these algorithms bootstrap regardless of the value of lambda, and as a result they fail to approximate Monte Carlo learning when lambda=1. It may seem that this is inevitable for any online off-policy algorithm; if updates are made on each step on which the target policy is followed, then how could just the right updates be ‘un-made’ upon deviation from the target policy? In this paper, we introduce a new version of Q(lambda) that does exactly that, without significantly increased algorithmic complexity. En route to our new Q(lambda), we introduce a new derivation technique based on the forward-view/backward-view analysis familiar from TD(lambda) but extended to apply at every time step rather than only at the end of episodes. We apply this technique to derive first a new off-policy version of TD(lambda), called PTD(lambda), and then our new Q(lambda), called PQ(lambda).

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