An Improved Analysis of (Variance-Reduced) Policy Gradient and Natural Policy Gradient Methods

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Yanli Liu, Kaiqing Zhang, Tamer Basar, Wotao Yin


In this paper, we revisit and improve the convergence of policy gradient (PG), natural PG (NPG) methods, and their variance-reduced variants, under general smooth policy parametrizations. More specifically, with the Fisher information matrix of the policy being positive definite: i) we show that a state-of-the-art variance-reduced PG method, which has only been shown to converge to stationary points, converges to the globally optimal value up to some inherent function approximation error due to policy parametrization; ii) we show that NPG enjoys a lower sample complexity; iii) we propose SRVR-NPG, which incorporates variance-reduction into the NPG update. Our improvements follow from an observation that the convergence of (variance-reduced) PG and NPG methods can improve each other: the stationary convergence analysis of PG can be applied on NPG as well, and the global convergence analysis of NPG can help to establish the global convergence of (variance-reduced) PG methods. Our analysis carefully integrates the advantages of these two lines of works. Thanks to this improvement, we have also made variance-reduction for NPG possible for the first time, with both global convergence and an efficient finite-sample complexity.