Convergent Tree Backup and Retrace with Function Approximation

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Ahmed Touati, Pierre-Luc Bacon, Doina Precup, Pascal Vincent ;
Proceedings of the 35th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR 80:4955-4964, 2018.

Abstract

Off-policy learning is key to scaling up reinforcement learning as it allows to learn about a target policy from the experience generated by a different behavior policy. Unfortunately, it has been challenging to combine off-policy learning with function approximation and multi-step bootstrapping in a way that leads to both stable and efficient algorithms. In this work, we show that the Tree Backup and Retrace algorithms are unstable with linear function approximation, both in theory and in practice with specific examples. Based on our analysis, we then derive stable and efficient gradient-based algorithms using a quadratic convex-concave saddle-point formulation. By exploiting the problem structure proper to these algorithms, we are able to provide convergence guarantees and finite-sample bounds. The applicability of our new analysis also goes beyond Tree Backup and Retrace and allows us to provide new convergence rates for the GTD and GTD2 algorithms without having recourse to projections or Polyak averaging.

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