Reinforcement Learning in a Birth and Death Process: Breaking the Dependence on the State SpaceDownload PDF

Published: 31 Oct 2022, Last Modified: 22 Jan 2023NeurIPS 2022 AcceptReaders: Everyone
Keywords: Markov decision processes, structured reinforcement learning, regret analysis, queueing systems
TL;DR: Our main insight is that efficient reinforcement learning can be achieved in the context of queueing systems independently of the diameter of the underlying Markov decision process even when this is large.
Abstract: In this paper, we revisit the regret of undiscounted reinforcement learning in MDPs with a birth and death structure. Specifically, we consider a controlled queue with impatient jobs and the main objective is to optimize a trade-off between energy consumption and user-perceived performance. Within this setting, the diameter $D$ of the MDP is $\Omega(S^S)$, where $S$ is the number of states. Therefore, the existing lower and upper bounds on the regret at time $T$, of order $O (\sqrt{DSAT})$ for MDPs with $S$ states and $A$ actions, may suggest that reinforcement learning is inefficient here. In our main result however, we exploit the structure of our MDPs to show that the regret of a slightly-tweaked version of the classical learning algorithm UCRL2 is in fact upper bounded by $\tilde{\mathcal{O}} (\sqrt{E_2AT})$ where $E_2$ is a weighted second moment of the stationary measure of a reference policy. Importantly, $E_2$ is bounded independently of $S$. Thus, our bound is asymptotically independent of the number of states and of the diameter. This result is based on a careful study of the number of visits performed by the learning algorithm to the states of the MDP, which is highly non-uniform.
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