Multi-Step Generalized Policy Improvement by Leveraging Approximate Models

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

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Lucas N. Alegre, Ana Bazzan, Ann Nowe, Bruno C. da Silva


We introduce a principled method for performing zero-shot transfer in reinforcement learning (RL) by exploiting approximate models of the environment. Zero-shot transfer in RL has been investigated by leveraging methods rooted in generalized policy improvement (GPI) and successor features (SFs). Although computationally efficient, these methods are model-free: they analyze a library of policies---each solving a particular task---and identify which action the agent should take. We investigate the more general setting where, in addition to a library of policies, the agent has access to an approximate environment model. Even though model-based RL algorithms can identify near-optimal policies, they are typically computationally intensive. We introduce $h$-GPI, a multi-step extension of GPI that interpolates between these extremes---standard model-free GPI and fully model-based planning---as a function of a parameter, $h$, regulating the amount of time the agent has to reason. We prove that $h$-GPI's performance lower bound is strictly better than GPI's, and show that $h$-GPI generally outperforms GPI as $h$ increases. Furthermore, we prove that as $h$ increases, $h$-GPI's performance becomes arbitrarily less susceptible to sub-optimality in the agent's policy library. Finally, we introduce novel bounds characterizing the gains achievable by $h$-GPI as a function of approximation errors in both the agent's policy library and its (possibly learned) model. These bounds strictly generalize those known in the literature. We evaluate $h$-GPI on challenging tabular and continuous-state problems under value function approximation and show that it consistently outperforms GPI and state-of-the-art competing methods under various levels of approximation errors.