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Importance Sampling Techniques for Policy Optimization

Alberto Maria Metelli, Matteo Papini, Nico Montali, Marcello Restelli; 21(141):1−75, 2020.


How can we effectively exploit the collected samples when solving a continuous control task with Reinforcement Learning? Recent results have empirically demonstrated that multiple policy optimization steps can be performed with the same batch by using off-distribution techniques based on importance sampling. However, when dealing with off-distribution optimization, it is essential to take into account the uncertainty introduced by the importance sampling process. In this paper, we propose and analyze a class of model-free, policy search algorithms that extend the recent Policy Optimization via Importance Sampling (Metelli et al., 2018) by incorporating two advanced variance reduction techniques: per-decision and multiple importance sampling. For both of them, we derive a high-probability bound, of independent interest, and then we show how to employ it to define a suitable surrogate objective function that can be used for both action-based and parameter-based settings. The resulting algorithms are finally evaluated on a set of continuous control tasks, using both linear and deep policies, and compared with modern policy optimization methods.

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