Ordering-based Conditions for Global Convergence of Policy Gradient Methods

Published: 21 Sept 2023, Last Modified: 02 Nov 2023NeurIPS 2023 oralEveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Keywords: reinforcement learning, policy gradient, policy optimization, function approximation, global convergence
TL;DR: PG method converges whenever there exists an adequate linear function that ranks actions in the same order as the ground-truth reward function.
Abstract: We prove that, for finite-arm bandits with linear function approximation, the global convergence of policy gradient (PG) methods depends on inter-related properties between the policy update and the representation. textcolor{blue}{First}, we establish a few key observations that frame the study: \textbf{(i)} Global convergence can be achieved under linear function approximation without policy or reward realizability, both for the standard Softmax PG and natural policy gradient (NPG). \textbf{(ii)} Approximation error is not a key quantity for characterizing global convergence in either algorithm. \textbf{(iii)} The conditions on the representation that imply global convergence are different between these two algorithms. Overall, these observations call into question approximation error as an appropriate quantity for characterizing the global convergence of PG methods under linear function approximation. \textcolor{blue}{Second}, motivated by these observations, we establish new general results: \textbf{(i)} NPG with linear function approximation achieves global convergence \emph{if and only if} the projection of the reward onto the representable space preserves the optimal action's rank, a quantity that is not strongly related to approximation error. \textbf{(ii)} The global convergence of Softmax PG occurs if the representation satisfies a non-domination condition and can preserve the ranking of rewards, which goes well beyond policy or reward realizability. We provide experimental results to support these theoretical findings.
Supplementary Material: pdf
Submission Number: 14254