The Optimal Reward Baseline for Gradient-Based Reinforcement Learning

Weaver, Lex, Tao, Nigel

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence 

There exist a number of reinforcement learning algorithms which learnby climbing the gradient of expected reward. Their long-runconvergence has been proved, even in partially observableenvironments with non-deterministic actions, and without the need fora system model. However, the variance of the gradient estimator hasbeen found to be a significant practical problem. Recent approacheshave discounted future rewards, introducing a bias-variance trade-offinto the gradient estimate. We incorporate a reward baseline into thelearning system, and show that it affects variance without introducingfurther bias. In particular, as we approach the zero-bias,high-variance parameterization, the optimal (or variance minimizing)constant reward baseline is equal to the long-term average expectedreward. Modified policy-gradient algorithms are presented, and anumber of experiments demonstrate their improvement over previous work.

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