Infinite-Horizon Policy-Gradient Estimation

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Gradient-based approaches to direct policy search in reinforcement learning have received much recent attention as a means to solve problems of partial observability and to avoid some of the problems associated with policy degradation in value-function methods. In this paper we introduce GPOMDP, a simulation-based algorithm for generating a biased estimate of the gradient of the average reward in Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes POMDPs controlled by parameterized stochastic policies. A similar algorithm was proposed by (Kimura et al. 1995). The algorithm's chief advantages are that it requires storage of only twice the number of policy parameters, uses one free beta (which has a natural interpretation in terms of bias-variance trade-off), and requires no knowledge of the underlying state. We prove convergence of GPOMDP, and show how the correct choice of the parameter beta is related to the mixing time of the controlled POMDP. We briefly describe extensions of GPOMDP to controlled Markov chains, continuous state, observation and control spaces, multiple-agents, higher-order derivatives, and a version for training stochastic policies with internal states. In a companion paper (Baxter et al., this volume) we show how the gradient estimates generated by GPOMDP can be used in both a traditional stochastic gradient algorithm and a conjugate-gradient procedure to find local optima of the average reward.

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