Constrained Reinforcement Learning Has Zero Duality Gap

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

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Santiago Paternain, Luiz Chamon, Miguel Calvo-Fullana, Alejandro Ribeiro


Autonomous agents must often deal with conflicting requirements, such as completing tasks using the least amount of time/energy, learning multiple tasks, or dealing with multiple opponents. In the context of reinforcement learning~(RL), these problems are addressed by (i)~designing a reward function that simultaneously describes all requirements or (ii)~combining modular value functions that encode them individually. Though effective, these methods have critical downsides. Designing good reward functions that balance different objectives is challenging, especially as the number of objectives grows. Moreover, implicit interference between goals may lead to performance plateaus as they compete for resources, particularly when training on-policy. Similarly, selecting parameters to combine value functions is at least as hard as designing an all-encompassing reward, given that the effect of their values on the overall policy is not straightforward. The later is generally addressed by formulating the conflicting requirements as a constrained RL problem and solved using Primal-Dual methods. These algorithms are in general not guaranteed to converge to the optimal solution since the problem is not convex. This work provides theoretical support to these approaches by establishing that despite its non-convexity, this problem has zero duality gap, i.e., it can be solved exactly in the dual domain, where it becomes convex. Finally, we show this result basically holds if the policy is described by a good parametrization~(e.g., neural networks) and we connect this result with primal-dual algorithms present in the literature and we establish the convergence to the optimal solution.