Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 23 (NIPS 2010)

*Sridhar Mahadevan, Bo Liu*

This paper explores links between basis construction methods in Markov decision processes and power series expansions of value functions. This perspective provides a useful framework to analyze properties of existing bases, as well as provides insight into constructing more effective bases. Krylov and Bellman error bases are based on the Neumann series expansion. These bases incur very large initial Bellman errors, and can converge rather slowly as the discount factor approaches unity. The Laurent series expansion, which relates discounted and average-reward formulations, provides both an explanation for this slow convergence as well as suggests a way to construct more efficient basis representations. The first two terms in the Laurent series represent the scaled average-reward and the average-adjusted sum of rewards, and subsequent terms expand the discounted value function using powers of a generalized inverse called the Drazin (or group inverse) of a singular matrix derived from the transition matrix. Experiments show that Drazin bases converge considerably more quickly than several other bases, particularly for large values of the discount factor. An incremental variant of Drazin bases called Bellman average-reward bases (BARBs) is described, which provides some of the same benefits at lower computational cost.

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