Approximate Thompson Sampling via Epistemic Neural NetworksDownload PDF

Published: 08 May 2023, Last Modified: 26 Jun 2023UAI 2023Readers: Everyone
Keywords: Uncertainty, Exploration, RL, Deep Learning
TL;DR: Better joint predictions lead to better decisions in deep RL.
Abstract: Thompson sampling (TS) is a popular heuristic for action selection, but it requires sampling from a posterior distribution. Unfortunately, this can become computationally intractable in complex environments, such as those modeled using neural networks. Approximate posterior samples can produce effective actions, but only if they reasonably approximate joint predictive distributions of outputs across inputs. Notably, accuracy of marginal predictive distributions does not suffice. Epistemic neural networks (ENNs) are designed to produce accurate joint predictive distributions. We compare a range of ENNs through computational experiments that assess their performance in approximating TS across bandit and reinforcement learning environments. The results indicate that ENNs serve this purpose well and illustrate how the quality of joint predictive distributions drives performance. Further, we demonstrate that the \textit{epinet} --- a small additive network that estimates uncertainty --- matches the performance of large ensembles at orders of magnitude lower computational cost. This enables effective application of TS with computation that scales gracefully to complex environments.
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