Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)
Ling Pan, Qingpeng Cai, Longbo Huang
A widely-used actor-critic reinforcement learning algorithm for continuous control, Deep Deterministic Policy Gradients (DDPG), suffers from the overestimation problem, which can negatively affect the performance. Although the state-of-the-art Twin Delayed Deep Deterministic Policy Gradient (TD3) algorithm mitigates the overestimation issue, it can lead to a large underestimation bias. In this paper, we propose to use the Boltzmann softmax operator for value function estimation in continuous control. We first theoretically analyze the softmax operator in continuous action space. Then, we uncover an important property of the softmax operator in actor-critic algorithms, i.e., it helps to smooth the optimization landscape, which sheds new light on the benefits of the operator. We also design two new algorithms, Softmax Deep Deterministic Policy Gradients (SD2) and Softmax Deep Double Deterministic Policy Gradients (SD3), by building the softmax operator upon single and double estimators, which can effectively improve the overestimation and underestimation bias. We conduct extensive experiments on challenging continuous control tasks, and results show that SD3 outperforms state-of-the-art methods.