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  1. Centralized Training for Decentralized Execution, where agents are trained offline in a centralized fashion and execute online in a decentralized manner, has become a popular approach in Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning (MARL). In particular, it has become popular to develop actor-critic methods that train decentralized actors with a centralized critic where the centralized critic is allowed access to global information of the entire system, including the true system state. Such centralized critics are possible given offline information and are not used for online execution. While these methods perform well in a number of domains and have become a de facto standard in MARL, using a centralized critic in this context has yet to be sufficiently analyzed theoretically or empirically. In this paper, we therefore formally analyze centralized and decentralized critic approaches, and analyze the effect of using state-based critics in partially observable environments. We derive theories contrary to the common intuition: critic centralization is not strictly beneficial, and using state values can be harmful. We further prove that, in particular, state-based critics can introduce unexpected bias and variance compared to history-based critics. Finally, we demonstrate how the theory applies in practice by comparing different forms of critics on a wide range of common multi-agent benchmarks. The experiments show practical issues such as the difficulty of representation learning with partial observability, which highlights why the theoretical problems are often overlooked in the literature. 
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  2. Centralized Training for Decentralized Execution, where training is done in a centralized offline fashion, has become a popular solution paradigm in Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning. Many such methods take the form of actor-critic with state-based critics, since centralized training allows access to the true system state, which can be useful during training despite not being available at execution time. State-based critics have become a common empirical choice, albeit one which has had limited theoretical justification or analysis. In this paper, we show that state-based critics can introduce bias in the policy gradient estimates, potentially undermining the asymptotic guarantees of the algorithm. We also show that, even if the state-based critics do not introduce any bias, they can still result in a larger gradient variance, contrary to the common intuition. Finally, we show the effects of the theories in practice by comparing different forms of centralized critics on a wide range of common benchmarks, and detail how various environmental properties are related to the effectiveness of different types of critics. 
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  3. Learning safe solutions is an important but challenging problem in multi-agent reinforcement learning (MARL). Shielded reinforcement learning is one approach for preventing agents from choosing unsafe actions. Current shielded reinforcement learning methods for MARL make strong assumptions about communication and full observability. In this work, we extend the formalization of the shielded reinforcement learning problem to a decentralized multi-agent setting. We then present an algorithm for decomposition of a centralized shield, allowing shields to be used in such decentralized, communication-free environments. Our results show that agents equipped with decentralized shields perform comparably to agents with centralized shields in several tasks, allowing shielding to be used in environments with decentralized training and execution for the first time. 
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  4. Synchronizing decisions across multiple agents in realistic settings is problematic since it requires agents to wait for other agents to terminate and communicate about termination reliably. Ideally, agents should learn and execute asynchronously instead. Such asynchronous methods also allow temporally extended actions that can take different amounts of time based on the situation and action executed. Unfortunately, current policy gradient methods are not applicable in asynchronous settings, as they assume that agents synchronously reason about action selection at every time step. To allow asynchronous learning and decision-making, we formulate a set of asynchronous multi-agent actor-critic methods that allow agents to directly optimize asynchronous policies in three standard training paradigms: decentralized learning, centralized learning, and centralized training for decentralized execution. Empirical results (in simulation and hardware) in a variety of realistic domains demonstrate the superiority of our approaches in large multi-agent problems and validate the effectiveness of our algorithms for learning high-quality and asynchronous solutions. 
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  5. Policy gradient methods have become popular in multi-agent reinforcement learning, but they suffer from high variance due to the presence of environmental stochasticity and exploring agents (i.e., non-stationarity), which is potentially worsened by the difficulty in credit assignment. As a result, there is a need for a method that is not only capable of efficiently solving the above two problems but also robust enough to solve a variety of tasks. To this end, we propose a new multi-agent policy gradient method, called Robust Local Advantage (ROLA) Actor-Critic. ROLA allows each agent to learn an individual action-value function as a local critic as well as ameliorating environment non-stationarity via a novel centralized training approach based on a centralized critic. By using this local critic, each agent calculates a baseline to reduce variance on its policy gradient estimation, which results in an expected advantage action-value over other agents’ choices that implicitly improves credit assignment. We evaluate ROLA across diverse benchmarks and show its robustness and effectiveness over a number of state-of-the-art multi-agent policy gradient algorithms. 
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  6. Centralized Training for Decentralized Execution, where agents are trained offline using centralized information but execute in a decentralized manner online, has gained popularity in the multi-agent reinforcement learning community. In particular, actor-critic methods with a centralized critic and decentralized actors are a common instance of this idea. However, the implications of using a centralized critic in this context are not fully discussed and understood even though it is the standard choice of many algorithms. We therefore formally analyze centralized and decentralized critic approaches, providing a deeper understanding of the implications of critic choice. Because our theory makes unrealistic assumptions, we also empirically compare the centralized and decentralized critic methods over a wide set of environments to validate our theories and to provide practical advice. We show that there exist misconceptions regarding centralized critics in the current literature and show that the centralized critic design is not strictly beneficial, but rather both centralized and decentralized critics have different pros and cons that should be taken into account by algorithm designers 
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