Policy Gradient Algorithms Implicitly Optimize by Continuation
Abstract: Direct policy optimization in reinforcement learning is usually solved with policy-gradient algorithms, which optimize policy parameters via stochastic gradient ascent. This paper provides a new theoretical interpretation and justification of these algorithms. First, we formulate direct policy optimization in the optimization by continuation framework. The latter is a framework for optimizing nonconvex functions where a sequence of surrogate objective functions, called continuations, are locally optimized. Second, we show that optimizing affine Gaussian policies and performing entropy regularization can be interpreted as implicitly optimizing deterministic policies by continuation. Based on these theoretical results, we argue that exploration in policy-gradient algorithms consists in computing a continuation of the return of the policy at hand, and that the variance of policies should be history-dependent functions adapted to avoid local extrema rather than to maximize the return of the policy.
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Submission Length: Regular submission (no more than 12 pages of main content)
Assigned Action Editor: ~Martha_White1
Submission Number: 1157