Optimistic Active Exploration of Dynamical Systems

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Bhavya , Lenart Treven, Cansu Sancaktar, Sebastian Blaes, Stelian Coros, Andreas Krause


Reinforcement learning algorithms commonly seek to optimize policies for solving one particular task. How should we explore an unknown dynamical system such that the estimated model allows us to solve multiple downstream tasks in a zero-shot manner? In this paper, we address this challenge, by developing an algorithm -- OPAX -- for active exploration. OPAX uses well-calibrated probabilistic models to quantify the epistemic uncertainty about the unknown dynamics. It optimistically---w.r.t. to plausible dynamics---maximizes the information gain between the unknown dynamics and state observations. We show how the resulting optimization problem can be reduced to an optimal control problem that can be solved at each episode using standard approaches. We analyze our algorithm for general models, and, in the case of Gaussian process dynamics, we give a sample complexity bound andshow that the epistemic uncertainty converges to zero. In our experiments, we compare OPAX with other heuristic active exploration approaches on several environments. Our experiments show that OPAX is not only theoretically sound but also performs well for zero-shot planning on novel downstream tasks.