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Curiosity Killed the Cat and the Asymptotically Optimal Agent

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Reinforcement learners are agents that learn to pick actions that lead to high reward. Ideally, the value of a reinforcement learner's policy approaches optimality--where the optimal informed policy is the one which maximizes reward. Unfortunately, we show that if an agent is guaranteed to be "asymptotically optimal" in any (stochastically computable) environment, then subject to an assumption about the true environment, this agent will be either destroyed or incapacitated with probability 1; both of these are forms of traps as understood in the Markov Decision Process literature. Environments with traps pose a well-known problem for agents, but we are unaware of other work which shows that traps are not only a risk, but a certainty, for agents of a certain caliber. Much work in reinforcement learning uses an ergodicity assumption to avoid this problem. Often, doing theoretical research under simplifying assumptions prepares us to provide practical solutions even in the absence of those assumptions, but the ergodicity assumption in reinforcement learning may have led us entirely astray in preparing safe and effective exploration strategies for agents in dangerous environments. Rather than assuming away the problem, we present an agent with the modest guarantee of approaching the performance of a mentor, doing safe exploration instead of reckless exploration.


On the Computability of Solomonoff Induction and Knowledge-Seeking

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Solomonoff induction is held as a gold standard for learning, but it is known to be incomputable. We quantify its incomputability by placing various flavors of Solomonoff's prior M in the arithmetical hierarchy. We also derive computability bounds for knowledge-seeking agents, and give a limit-computable weakly asymptotically optimal reinforcement learning agent.


Strong Asymptotic Optimality in General Environments

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Reinforcement Learning agents are expected to eventually perform well. Typically, this takes the form of a guarantee about the asymptotic behavior of an algorithm given some assumptions about the environment. We present an algorithm for a policy whose value approaches the optimal value with probability 1 in all computable probabilistic environments, provided the agent has a bounded horizon. This is known as strong asymptotic optimality, and it was previously unknown whether it was possible for a policy to be strongly asymptotically optimal in the class of all computable probabilistic environments. Our agent, Inquisitive Reinforcement Learner (Inq), is more likely to explore the more it expects an exploratory action to reduce its uncertainty about which environment it is in, hence the term inquisitive. Exploring inquisitively is a strategy that can be applied generally; for more manageable environment classes, inquisitiveness is tractable. We conducted experiments in "grid-worlds" to compare the Inquisitive Reinforcement Learner to other weakly asymptotically optimal agents.


On the Possibility of Learning in Reactive Environments with Arbitrary Dependence

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

We address the problem of reinforcement learning in which observations may exhibit an arbitrary form of stochastic dependence on past observations and actions, i.e. environments more general than (PO)MDPs. The task for an agent is to attain the best possible asymptotic reward where the true generating environment is unknown but belongs to a known countable family of environments. We find some sufficient conditions on the class of environments under which an agent exists which attains the best asymptotic reward for any environment in the class. We analyze how tight these conditions are and how they relate to different probabilistic assumptions known in reinforcement learning and related fields, such as Markov Decision Processes and mixing conditions.


Optimistic Gittins Indices

Neural Information Processing Systems

Starting with the Thomspon sampling algorithm, recent years have seen a resurgence ofinterest in Bayesian algorithms for the Multi-armed Bandit (MAB) problem. These algorithms seek to exploit prior information on arm biases and while several have been shown to be regret optimal, their design has not emerged from a principled approach. In contrast, if one cared about Bayesian regret discounted over an infinite horizon at a fixed, pre-specified rate, the celebrated Gittins index theorem offers an optimal algorithm. Unfortunately, the Gittins analysis does not appear to carry over to minimizing Bayesian regret over all sufficiently large horizons and computing a Gittins index is onerous relative to essentially any incumbent index scheme for the Bayesian MAB problem. The present paper proposes a sequence of'optimistic' approximations to the Gittins index. We show that the use of these approximations in concert with the use of an increasing discount factor appears to offer a compelling alternative to state-of-the-art index schemes proposed for the Bayesian MAB problem in recent years by offering substantially improved performance with little to no additional computational overhead. In addition, we prove that the simplest of these approximations yields frequentist regret that matches the Lai-Robbins lower bound, including achieving matching constants.