Keywords: Reward Shifting, Value-Based Deep RL, Reward Shaping, Conservative Exploitation, Optimistic Exploration, Curiosity-Driven Exploration, Online RL, Offline RL
TL;DR: A positive reward shifting leads to conservative exploitation, while a negative reward shifting leads to curiosity-driven exploration.
Abstract: In this work, we study the simple yet universally applicable case of reward shaping in value-based Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL). We show that reward shifting in the form of a linear transformation is equivalent to changing the initialization of the $Q$-function in function approximation. Based on such an equivalence, we bring the key insight that a positive reward shifting leads to conservative exploitation, while a negative reward shifting leads to curiosity-driven exploration. Accordingly, conservative exploitation improves offline RL value estimation, and optimistic value estimation improves exploration for online RL. We validate our insight on a range of RL tasks and show its improvement over baselines: (1) In offline RL, the conservative exploitation leads to improved performance based on off-the-shelf algorithms; (2) In online continuous control, multiple value functions with different shifting constants can be used to tackle the exploration-exploitation dilemma for better sample efficiency; (3) In discrete control tasks, a negative reward shifting yields an improvement over the curiosity-based exploration method.
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