Exploit Reward Shifting in Value-Based Deep-RL: Optimistic Curiosity-Based Exploration and Conservative Exploitation via Linear Reward Shaping

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Hao Sun, Lei Han, Rui Yang, Xiaoteng Ma, Jian Guo, Bolei Zhou


In this work, we study the simple yet universally applicable case of reward shaping in value-based Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL). We show that reward shifting in the form of a linear transformation is equivalent to changing the initialization of the $Q$-function in function approximation. Based on such an equivalence, we bring the key insight that a positive reward shifting leads to conservative exploitation, while a negative reward shifting leads to curiosity-driven exploration. Accordingly, conservative exploitation improves offline RL value estimation, and optimistic value estimation improves exploration for online RL. We validate our insight on a range of RL tasks and show its improvement over baselines: (1) In offline RL, the conservative exploitation leads to improved performance based on off-the-shelf algorithms; (2) In online continuous control, multiple value functions with different shifting constants can be used to tackle the exploration-exploitation dilemma for better sample efficiency; (3) In discrete control tasks, a negative reward shifting yields an improvement over the curiosity-based exploration method.