Oral Poster

Ordering-based Conditions for Global Convergence of Policy Gradient Methods

Jincheng Mei · Bo Dai · Alekh Agarwal · Mohammad Ghavamzadeh · Csaba Szepesvari · Dale Schuurmans

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1427
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Tue 12 Dec 8:45 a.m. PST — 10:45 a.m. PST
 
Oral presentation: Oral 1A RL
Tue 12 Dec 8 a.m. PST — 8:45 a.m. PST

Abstract:

We prove that, for finite-arm bandits with linear function approximation, the global convergence of policy gradient (PG) methods depends on inter-related properties between the policy update and the representation. textcolor{blue}{First}, we establish a few key observations that frame the study: \textbf{(i)} Global convergence can be achieved under linear function approximation without policy or reward realizability, both for the standard Softmax PG and natural policy gradient (NPG). \textbf{(ii)} Approximation error is not a key quantity for characterizing global convergence in either algorithm. \textbf{(iii)} The conditions on the representation that imply global convergence are different between these two algorithms. Overall, these observations call into question approximation error as an appropriate quantity for characterizing the global convergence of PG methods under linear function approximation. \textcolor{blue}{Second}, motivated by these observations, we establish new general results: \textbf{(i)} NPG with linear function approximation achieves global convergence \emph{if and only if} the projection of the reward onto the representable space preserves the optimal action's rank, a quantity that is not strongly related to approximation error. \textbf{(ii)} The global convergence of Softmax PG occurs if the representation satisfies a non-domination condition and can preserve the ranking of rewards, which goes well beyond policy or reward realizability. We provide experimental results to support these theoretical findings.

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