Smoothed Action Value Functions for Learning Gaussian Policies

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Ofir Nachum, Mohammad Norouzi, George Tucker, Dale Schuurmans ;
Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 80:3692-3700, 2018.

Abstract

State-action value functions (i.e., Q-values) are ubiquitous in reinforcement learning (RL), giving rise to popular algorithms such as SARSA and Q-learning. We propose a new notion of action value defined by a Gaussian smoothed version of the expected Q-value. We show that such smoothed Q-values still satisfy a Bellman equation, making them learnable from experience sampled from an environment. Moreover, the gradients of expected reward with respect to the mean and covariance of a parameterized Gaussian policy can be recovered from the gradient and Hessian of the smoothed Q-value function. Based on these relationships we develop new algorithms for training a Gaussian policy directly from a learned smoothed Q-value approximator. The approach is additionally amenable to proximal optimization by augmenting the objective with a penalty on KL-divergence from a previous policy. We find that the ability to learn both a mean and covariance during training leads to significantly improved results on standard continuous control benchmarks.

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