skip to main content

Attention:

The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, June 13 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, June 14 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Title: What are the Statistical Limits of Offline RL with Linear Function Approximation?
Offline reinforcement learning seeks to utilize offline (observational) data to guide the learning of (causal) sequential decision making strategies. The hope is that offline reinforcement learning coupled with function approximation methods (to deal with the curse of dimensionality) can provide a means to help alleviate the excessive sample complexity burden in modern sequential decision making problems. However, the extent to which this broader approach can be effective is not well understood, where the literature largely consists of sufficient conditions. This work focuses on the basic question of what are necessary representational and distributional conditions that permit provable sample-efficient offline reinforcement learning. Perhaps surprisingly, our main result shows that even if: i) we have realizability in that the true value function of \emph{every} policy is linear in a given set of features and 2) our off-policy data has good coverage over all features (under a strong spectral condition), any algorithm still (information-theoretically) requires a number of offline samples that is exponential in the problem horizon to non-trivially estimate the value of \emph{any} given policy. Our results highlight that sample-efficient offline policy evaluation is not possible unless significantly stronger conditions hold; such conditions include either having low distribution shift (where the offline data distribution is close to the distribution of the policy to be evaluated) or significantly stronger representational conditions (beyond realizability).  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1703574 1740551
NSF-PAR ID:
10276113
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
International Conference on Learning Representations
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. We study representation learning for Offline Reinforcement Learning (RL), focusing on the important task of Offline Policy Evaluation (OPE). Recent work shows that, in contrast to supervised learning, realizability of the Q-function is not enough for learning it. Two sufficient conditions for sample-efficient OPE are Bellman completeness and coverage. Prior work often assumes that representations satisfying these conditions are given, with results being mostly theoretical in nature. In this work, we propose BCRL, which directly learns from data an approximately linear Bellman complete representation with good coverage. With this learned representation, we perform OPE using Least Square Policy Evaluation (LSPE) with linear functions in our learned representation. We present an end-to-end theoretical analysis, showing that our two-stage algorithm enjoys polynomial sample complexity provided some representation in the rich class considered is linear Bellman complete. Empirically, we extensively evaluate our algorithm on challenging, image-based continuous control tasks from the Deepmind Control Suite. We show our representation enables better OPE compared to previous representation learning methods developed for off-policy RL (e.g., CURL, SPR). BCRL achieve competitive OPE error with the state-of-the-art method Fitted Q-Evaluation (FQE), and beats FQE when evaluating beyond the initial state distribution. Our ablations show that both linear Bellman complete and coverage components of our method are crucial. 
    more » « less
  2. We study the \emph{offline reinforcement learning} (offline RL) problem, where the goal is to learn a reward-maximizing policy in an unknown \emph{Markov Decision Process} (MDP) using the data coming from a policy $\mu$. In particular, we consider the sample complexity problems of offline RL for the finite horizon MDPs. Prior works derive the information-theoretical lower bounds based on different data-coverage assumptions and their upper bounds are expressed by the covering coefficients which lack the explicit characterization of system quantities. In this work, we analyze the \emph{Adaptive Pessimistic Value Iteration} (APVI) algorithm and derive the suboptimality upper bound that nearly matches $ O\left(\sum_{h=1}^H\sum_{s_h,a_h}d^{\pi^\star}_h(s_h,a_h)\sqrt{\frac{\mathrm{Var}_{P_{s_h,a_h}}{(V^\star_{h+1}+r_h)}}{d^\mu_h(s_h,a_h)}}\sqrt{\frac{1}{n}}\right). $ We also prove an information-theoretical lower bound to show this quantity is required under the weak assumption that $d^\mu_h(s_h,a_h)>0$ if $d^{\pi^\star}_h(s_h,a_h)>0$. Here $\pi^\star$ is a optimal policy, $\mu$ is the behavior policy and $d(s_h,a_h)$ is the marginal state-action probability. We call this adaptive bound the \emph{intrinsic offline reinforcement learning bound} since it directly implies all the existing optimal results: minimax rate under uniform data-coverage assumption, horizon-free setting, single policy concentrability, and the tight problem-dependent results. Later, we extend the result to the \emph{assumption-free} regime (where we make no assumption on $ \mu$) and obtain the assumption-free intrinsic bound. Due to its generic form, we believe the intrinsic bound could help illuminate what makes a specific problem hard and reveal the fundamental challenges in offline RL. 
    more » « less
  3. Offline reinforcement learning, which seeks to utilize offline/historical data to optimize sequential decision-making strategies, has gained surging prominence in recent studies. Due to the advantage that appropriate function approximators can help mitigate the sample complexity burden in modern reinforcement learning problems, existing endeavors usually enforce powerful function representation models (e.g. neural networks) to learn the optimal policies. However, a precise understanding of the statistical limits with function representations, remains elusive, even when such a representation is linear. Towards this goal, we study the statistical limits of offline reinforcement learning with linear model representations. To derive the tight offline learning bound, we design the variance-aware pessimistic value iteration (VAPVI), which adopts the conditional variance information of the value function for time-inhomogeneous episodic linear Markov decision processes (MDPs). VAPVI leverages estimated variances of the value functions to reweight the Bellman residuals in the least-square pessimistic value iteration and provides improved offline learning bounds over the best-known existing results (whereas the Bellman residuals are equally weighted by design). More importantly, our learning bounds are expressed in terms of system quantities, which provide natural instance-dependent characterizations that previous results are short of. We hope our results draw a clearer picture of what offline learning should look like when linear representations are provided. 
    more » « less
  4. Probabilistic learning to rank (LTR) has been the dominating approach for optimizing the ranking metric, but cannot maximize long-term rewards. Reinforcement learning models have been proposed to maximize user long-term rewards by formulating the recommendation as a sequential decision-making problem, but could only achieve inferior accuracy compared to LTR counterparts, primarily due to the lack of online interactions and the characteristics of ranking. In this paper, we propose a new off-policy value ranking (VR) algorithm that can simultaneously maximize user long-term rewards and optimize the ranking metric offline for improved sample efficiency in a unified Expectation-Maximization (EM) framework. We theoretically and empirically show that the EM process guides the leaned policy to enjoy the benefit of integration of the future reward and ranking metric, and learn without any online interactions. Extensive offline and online experiments demonstrate the effectiveness of our methods 
    more » « less
  5. Sample-efficiency guarantees for offline reinforcement learning (RL) often rely on strong assumptions on both the function classes (e.g., Bellman-completeness) and the data coverage (e.g., all-policy concentrability). Despite the recent efforts on relaxing these assumptions, existing works are only able to relax one of the two factors, leaving the strong assumption on the other factor intact. As an important open problem, can we achieve sample-efficient offline RL with weak assumptions on both factors? In this paper we answer the question in the positive. We analyze a simple algorithm based on the primal-dual formulation of MDPs, where the dual variables (discounted occupancy) are modeled using a density-ratio function against offline data. With proper regularization, the algorithm enjoys polynomial sample complexity, under only realizability and single-policy concentrability. We also provide alternative analyses based on different assumptions to shed light on the nature of primal-dual algorithms for offline RL. 
    more » « less