Predictive Representations of State

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 14 (NIPS 2001)

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Michael Littman, Richard S. Sutton


We show that states of a dynamical system can be usefully repre(cid:173) sented by multi-step, action-conditional predictions of future ob(cid:173) servations. State representations that are grounded in data in this way may be easier to learn, generalize better, and be less depen(cid:173) dent on accurate prior models than, for example, POMDP state representations. Building on prior work by Jaeger and by Rivest and Schapire, in this paper we compare and contrast a linear spe(cid:173) cialization of the predictive approach with the state representa(cid:173) tions used in POMDPs and in k-order Markov models. Ours is the first specific formulation of the predictive idea that includes both stochasticity and actions (controls). We show that any system has a linear predictive state representation with number of predictions no greater than the number of states in its minimal POMDP model.

In predicting or controlling a sequence of observations, the concepts of state and state estimation inevitably arise. There have been two dominant approaches. The generative-model approach, typified by research on partially observable Markov de(cid:173) cision processes (POMDPs), hypothesizes a structure for generating observations and estimates its state and state dynamics. The history-based approach, typified by k-order Markov methods, uses simple functions of past observations as state, that is, as the immediate basis for prediction and control. (The data flow in these two ap(cid:173) proaches are diagrammed in Figure 1.) Of the two, the generative-model approach is more general. The model's internal state gives it temporally unlimited memory(cid:173) the ability to remember an event that happened arbitrarily long ago--whereas a history-based approach can only remember as far back as its history extends. The bane of generative-model approaches is that they are often strongly dependent on a good model of the system's dynamics. Most uses of POMDPs, for example, assume a perfect dynamics model and attempt only to estimate state. There are algorithms for simultaneously estimating state and dynamics (e.g., Chrisman, 1992), analogous to the Baum-Welch algorithm for the uncontrolled case (Baum et al., 1970), but these are only effective at tuning parameters that are already approximately cor(cid:173) rect (e.g., Shatkay & Kaelbling, 1997).

observations (and actions)