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Direct Policy Gradients: Direct Optimization of Policies in Discrete Action Spaces
Guy Lorberbom · Chris Maddison · Nicolas Heess · Tamir Hazan · Danny Tarlow

Tue Dec 08 09:00 AM -- 11:00 AM (PST) @ Poster Session 1 #515

Direct optimization (McAllester et al., 2010; Song et al., 2016) is an appealing framework that replaces integration with optimization of a random objective for approximating gradients in models with discrete random variables (Lorberbom et al., 2018). A* sampling (Maddison et al., 2014) is a framework for optimizing such random objectives over large spaces. We show how to combine these techniques to yield a reinforcement learning algorithm that approximates a policy gradient by finding trajectories that optimize a random objective. We call the resulting algorithms \emph{direct policy gradient} (DirPG) algorithms. A main benefit of DirPG algorithms is that they allow the insertion of domain knowledge in the form of upper bounds on return-to-go at training time, like is used in heuristic search, while still directly computing a policy gradient. We further analyze their properties, showing there are cases where DirPG has an exponentially larger probability of sampling informative gradients compared to REINFORCE. We also show that there is a built-in variance reduction technique and that a parameter that was previously viewed as a numerical approximation can be interpreted as controlling risk sensitivity. Empirically, we evaluate the effect of key degrees of freedom and show that the algorithm performs well in illustrative domains compared to baselines.

Author Information

Guy Lorberbom (Technion)
Chris Maddison (University of Toronto)
Nicolas Heess (Google DeepMind)
Tamir Hazan (Technion)
Danny Tarlow (Google Research, Brain Team)

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