Sketch-Based Linear Value Function Approximation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Marc Bellemare, Joel Veness, Michael Bowling


Hashing is a common method to reduce large, potentially infinite feature vectors to a fixed-size table. In reinforcement learning, hashing is often used in conjunction with tile coding to represent states in continuous spaces. Hashing is also a promising approach to value function approximation in large discrete domains such as Go and Hearts, where feature vectors can be constructed by exhaustively combining a set of atomic features. Unfortunately, the typical use of hashing in value function approximation results in biased value estimates due to the possibility of collisions. Recent work in data stream summaries has led to the development of the tug-of-war sketch, an unbiased estimator for approximating inner products. Our work investigates the application of this new data structure to linear value function approximation. Although in the reinforcement learning setting the use of the tug-of-war sketch leads to biased value estimates, we show that this bias can be orders of magnitude less than that of standard hashing. We provide empirical results on two RL benchmark domains and fifty-five Atari 2600 games to highlight the superior learning performance of tug-of-war hashing.