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Free, publiclyaccessible full text available October 1, 2023

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 sampleefficient 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 offpolicy data has good coverage over all features (under a strong spectral condition), any algorithm still (informationtheoretically) requires a number of offline samples that is exponential in the problem horizon to nontrivially estimate the value of \emph{any} given policy. Our results highlight that sampleefficient offline policy evaluation is not possible unless significantly stronger conditions hold; such conditions include either having low distribution shift (where the offlinemore »

We consider the communication complexity of a number of distributed optimization problems. We start with the problem of solving a linear system. Suppose there is a coordinator together with s servers P1, …, Ps, the ith of which holds a subset A(i) x = b(i) of ni constraints of a linear system in d variables, and the coordinator would like to output an x ϵ ℝd for which A(i) x = b(i) for i = 1, …, s. We assume each coefficient of each constraint is specified using L bits. We first resolve the randomized and deterministic communication complexity in the pointtopoint model of communication, showing it is (d2 L + sd) and (sd2L), respectively. We obtain similar results for the blackboard communication model. As a result of independent interest, we show the probability a random matrix with integer entries in {–2L, …, 2L} is invertible is 1–2−Θ(dL), whereas previously only 1 – 2−Θ(d) was known. When there is no solution to the linear system, a natural alternative is to find the solution minimizing the ℓp loss, which is the ℓp regression problem. While this problem has been studied, we give improved upper or lower bounds for every value ofmore »

Learning to plan for long horizons is a central challenge in episodic reinforcement learning problems. A fundamental question is to understand how the difficulty of the problem scales as the horizon increases. Here the natural measure of sample complexity is a normalized one: we are interested in the \emph{number of episodes} it takes to provably discover a policy whose value is eps near to that of the optimal value, where the value is measured by the \emph{normalized} cumulative reward in each episode. In a COLT 2018 open problem, Jiang and Agarwal conjectured that, for tabular, episodic reinforcement learning problems, there exists a sample complexity lower bound which exhibits a polynomial dependence on the horizon  a conjecture which is consistent with all known sample complexity upper bounds. This work refutes this conjecture, proving that tabular, episodic reinforcement learning is possible with a sample complexity that scales only \emph{logarithmically} with the planning horizon. In other words, when the values are appropriately normalized (to lie in the unit interval), this results shows that long horizon RL is no more difficult than short horizon RL, at least in a minimax sense. Our analysis introduces two ideas: (i) the construction of an epsnet formore »

Modern deep learning methods provide effective means to learn good representations. However, is a good representation itself sufficient for sample efficient reinforcement learning? This question has largely been studied only with respect to (worstcase) approximation error, in the more classical approximate dynamic programming literature. With regards to the statistical viewpoint, this question is largely unexplored, and the extant body of literature mainly focuses on conditions which permit sample efficient reinforcement learning with little understanding of what are necessary conditions for efficient reinforcement learning. This work shows that, from the statistical viewpoint, the situation is far subtler than suggested by the more traditional approximation viewpoint, where the requirements on the representation that suffice for sample efficient RL are even more stringent. Our main results provide sharp thresholds for reinforcement learning methods, showing that there are hard limitations on what constitutes good function approximation (in terms of the dimensionality of the representation), where we focus on natural representational conditions relevant to valuebased, modelbased, and policybased learning. These lower bounds highlight that having a good (valuebased, modelbased, or policybased) representation in and of itself is insufficient for efficient reinforcement learning, unless the quality of this approximation passes certain hard thresholds. Furthermore, our lowermore »