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A Unifying View of Optimism in Episodic Reinforcement Learning

Gergely Neu · Ciara Pike-Burke

Poster Session 1 #497


The principle of ``optimism in the face of uncertainty'' underpins many theoretically successful reinforcement learning algorithms. In this paper we provide a general framework for designing, analyzing and implementing such algorithms in the episodic reinforcement learning problem. This framework is built upon Lagrangian duality, and demonstrates that every model-optimistic algorithm that constructs an optimistic MDP has an equivalent representation as a value-optimistic dynamic programming algorithm. Typically, it was thought that these two classes of algorithms were distinct, with model-optimistic algorithms benefiting from a cleaner probabilistic analysis while value-optimistic algorithms are easier to implement and thus more practical. With the framework developed in this paper, we show that it is possible to get the best of both worlds by providing a class of algorithms which have a computationally efficient dynamic-programming implementation and also a simple probabilistic analysis. Besides being able to capture many existing algorithms in the tabular setting, our framework can also address large-scale problems under realizable function approximation, where it enables a simple model-based analysis of some recently proposed methods.

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