A Kernel Loss for Solving the Bellman Equation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 32 (NeurIPS 2019)

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Yihao Feng, Lihong Li, Qiang Liu


Value function learning plays a central role in many state-of-the-art reinforcement learning algorithms. Many popular algorithms like Q-learning do not optimize any objective function, but are fixed-point iterations of some variants of Bellman operator that are not necessarily a contraction. As a result, they may easily lose convergence guarantees, as can be observed in practice. In this paper, we propose a novel loss function, which can be optimized using standard gradient-based methods with guaranteed convergence. The key advantage is that its gradient can be easily approximated using sampled transitions, avoiding the need for double samples required by prior algorithms like residual gradient. Our approach may be combined with general function classes such as neural networks, using either on- or off-policy data, and is shown to work reliably and effectively in several benchmarks, including classic problems where standard algorithms are known to diverge.