Variance-Aware Off-Policy Evaluation with Linear Function Approximation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)

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Yifei Min, Tianhao Wang, Dongruo Zhou, Quanquan Gu


We study the off-policy evaluation (OPE) problem in reinforcement learning with linear function approximation, which aims to estimate the value function of a target policy based on the offline data collected by a behavior policy. We propose to incorporate the variance information of the value function to improve the sample efficiency of OPE. More specifically, for time-inhomogeneous episodic linear Markov decision processes (MDPs), we propose an algorithm, \texttt{VA-OPE}, which uses the estimated variance of the value function to reweight the Bellman residual in Fitted Q-Iteration. We show that our algorithm achieves a tighter error bound than the best-known result. We also provide a fine-grained characterization of the distribution shift between the behavior policy and the target policy. Extensive numerical experiments corroborate our theory.