Navigating to the Best Policy in Markov Decision Processes

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

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Aymen Al Marjani, Aurélien Garivier, Alexandre Proutiere


We investigate the classical active pure exploration problem in Markov Decision Processes, where the agent sequentially selects actions and, from the resulting system trajectory, aims at identifying the best policy as fast as possible. We propose a problem-dependent lower bound on the average number of steps required before a correct answer can be given with probability at least $1-\delta$. We further provide the first algorithm with an instance-specific sample complexity in this setting. This algorithm addresses the general case of communicating MDPs; we also propose a variant with a reduced exploration rate (and hence faster convergence) under an additional ergodicity assumption. This work extends previous results relative to the \emph{generative setting}~\cite{pmlr-v139-marjani21a}, where the agent could at each step query the random outcome of any (state, action) pair. In contrast, we show here how to deal with the \emph{navigation constraints}, induced by the \emph{online setting}. Our analysis relies on an ergodic theorem for non-homogeneous Markov chains which we consider of wide interest in the analysis of Markov Decision Processes.