Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)
Simon Ramstedt, Chris Pal
Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), the mathematical framework underlying most algorithms in Reinforcement Learning (RL), are often used in a way that wrongfully assumes that the state of an agent's environment does not change during action selection. As RL systems based on MDPs begin to find application in real-world safety critical situations, this mismatch between the assumptions underlying classical MDPs and the reality of real-time computation may lead to undesirable outcomes. In this paper, we introduce a new framework, in which states and actions evolve simultaneously and show how it is related to the classical MDP formulation. We analyze existing algorithms under the new real-time formulation and show why they are suboptimal when used in real-time. We then use those insights to create a new algorithm Real-Time Actor Critic (RTAC) that outperforms the existing state-of-the-art continuous control algorithm Soft Actor Critic both in real-time and non-real-time settings.