Is Q-Learning Provably Efficient?

Neural Information Processing Systems

Model-free reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms directly parameterize and update value functions or policies, bypassing the modeling of the environment. They are typically simpler, more flexible to use, and thus more prevalent in modern deep RL than model-based approaches. However, empirical work has suggested that they require large numbers of samples to learn. The theoretical question of whether not model-free algorithms are in fact \emph{sample efficient} is one of the most fundamental questions in RL. The problem is unsolved even in the basic scenario with finitely many states and actions. We prove that, in an episodic MDP setting, Q-learning with UCB exploration achieves regret $\tlO(\sqrt{H^3 SAT})$ where $S$ and $A$ are the numbers of states and actions, $H$ is the number of steps per episode, and $T$ is the total number of steps. Our regret matches the optimal regret up to a single $\sqrt{H}$ factor. Thus we establish the sample efficiency of a classical model-free approach. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first model-free analysis to establish $\sqrt{T}$ regret \emph{without} requiring access to a ``simulator.''


Is Q-Learning Provably Efficient?

Neural Information Processing Systems

Model-free reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms directly parameterize and update value functions or policies, bypassing the modeling of the environment. They are typically simpler, more flexible to use, and thus more prevalent in modern deep RL than model-based approaches. However, empirical work has suggested that they require large numbers of samples to learn. The theoretical question of whether not model-free algorithms are in fact \emph{sample efficient} is one of the most fundamental questions in RL. The problem is unsolved even in the basic scenario with finitely many states and actions. We prove that, in an episodic MDP setting, Q-learning with UCB exploration achieves regret $\tlO(\sqrt{H^3 SAT})$ where $S$ and $A$ are the numbers of states and actions, $H$ is the number of steps per episode, and $T$ is the total number of steps. Our regret matches the optimal regret up to a single $\sqrt{H}$ factor. Thus we establish the sample efficiency of a classical model-free approach. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first model-free analysis to establish $\sqrt{T}$ regret \emph{without} requiring access to a ``simulator.''


Learning to Control in Metric Space with Optimal Regret

arXiv.org Machine Learning

We study online reinforcement learning for finite-horizon deterministic control systems with {\it arbitrary} state and action spaces. Suppose that the transition dynamics and reward function is unknown, but the state and action space is endowed with a metric that characterizes the proximity between different states and actions. We provide a surprisingly simple upper-confidence reinforcement learning algorithm that uses a function approximation oracle to estimate optimistic Q functions from experiences. We show that the regret of the algorithm after $K$ episodes is $O(HL(KH)^{\frac{d-1}{d}}) $ where $L$ is a smoothness parameter, and $d$ is the doubling dimension of the state-action space with respect to the given metric. We also establish a near-matching regret lower bound. The proposed method can be adapted to work for more structured transition systems, including the finite-state case and the case where value functions are linear combinations of features, where the method also achieve the optimal regret.


Stochastic Lipschitz Q-Learning

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

In an episodic Markov Decision Process (MDP) problem, an online algorithm chooses from a set of actions in a sequence of $H$ trials, where $H$ is the episode length, in order to maximize the total payoff of the chosen actions. Q-learning, as the most popular model-free reinforcement learning (RL) algorithm, directly parameterizes and updates value functions without explicitly modeling the environment. Recently, [Jin et al. 2018] studies the sample complexity of Q-learning with finite states and actions. Their algorithm achieves nearly optimal regret, which shows that Q-learning can be made sample efficient. However, MDPs with large discrete states and actions [Silver et al. 2016] or continuous spaces [Mnih et al. 2013] cannot learn efficiently in this way. Hence, it is critical to develop new algorithms to solve this dilemma with provable guarantee on the sample complexity. With this motivation, we propose a novel algorithm that works for MDPs with a more general setting, which has infinitely many states and actions and assumes that the payoff function and transition kernel are Lipschitz continuous. We also provide corresponding theory justification for our algorithm. It achieves the regret $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(K^{\frac{d+1}{d+2}}\sqrt{H^3}),$ where $K$ denotes the number of episodes and $d$ denotes the dimension of the joint space. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first analysis in the model-free setting whose established regret matches the lower bound up to a logarithmic factor.


Online Regret Bounds for Undiscounted Continuous Reinforcement Learning

Neural Information Processing Systems

We derive sublinear regret bounds for undiscounted reinforcement learning in continuous state space. The proposed algorithm combines state aggregation with the use of upper confidence bounds for implementing optimism in the face of uncertainty. Beside the existence of an optimal policy which satisfies the Poisson equation, the only assumptions made are Hoelder continuity of rewards and transition probabilities.