Non-Crossing Quantile Regression for Distributional Reinforcement Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Fan Zhou, Jianing Wang, Xingdong Feng


<p>Distributional reinforcement learning (DRL) estimates the distribution over future returns instead of the mean to more efficiently capture the intrinsic uncertainty of MDPs. However, batch-based DRL algorithms cannot guarantee the non-decreasing property of learned quantile curves especially at the early training stage, leading to abnormal distribution estimates and reduced model interpretability. To address these issues, we introduce a general DRL framework by using non-crossing quantile regression to ensure the monotonicity constraint within each sampled batch, which can be incorporated with any well-known DRL algorithm. We demonstrate the validity of our method from both the theory and model implementation perspectives. Experiments on Atari 2600 Games show that some state-of-art DRL algorithms with the non-crossing modification can significantly outperform their baselines in terms of faster convergence speeds and better testing performance. In particular, our method can effectively recover the distribution information and thus dramatically increase the exploration efficiency when the reward space is extremely sparse.</p>