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# Minimax-optimal reward-agnostic exploration in reinforcement learning

*Proceedings of Thirty Seventh Conference on Learning Theory*, PMLR 247:3431-3436, 2024.

#### Abstract

This paper studies reward-agnostic exploration in reinforcement learning (RL) — a scenario where the learner is unware of the reward functions during the exploration stage — and designs an algorithm that improves over the state of the art. More precisely, consider a finite-horizon inhomogeneous Markov decision process with $S$ states, $A$ actions, and horizon length $H$, and suppose that there are no more than a polynomial number of given reward functions of interest. By collecting an order of $\frac{SAH^3}{\varepsilon^2}$ sample episodes (up to log factor) without guidance of the reward information, our algorithm is able to find $\varepsilon$-optimal policies for all these reward functions, provided that $\varepsilon$ is sufficiently small. This forms the first reward-agnostic exploration scheme in this context that achieves provable minimax optimality. Furthermore, once the sample size exceeds $\frac{S^2AH^3}{\varepsilon^2}$ episodes (up to log factor), our algorithm is able to yield $\varepsilon$ accuracy for arbitrarily many reward functions (even when they are adversarially designed), a task commonly dubbed as “reward-free exploration.” The novelty of our algorithm design draws on insights from offline RL: the exploration scheme attempts to maximize a critical reward-agnostic quantity that dictates the performance of offline RL, while the policy learning paradigm leverages ideas from sample-optimal offline RL paradigms.