Nearly all real-world applications of reinforcement learning involve some degree of shift between the training environment and the testing environment. However, prior work has observed that even small shifts in the environment cause most RL algorithms to perform markedly worse. As we aim to scale reinforcement learning algorithms and apply them in the real world, it is increasingly important to learn policies that are robust to changes in the environment.
Robust reinforcement learning maximizes reward on an adversarially-chosen environment.
Broadly, prior approaches to handling distribution shift in RL aim to maximize performance in either the average case or the worst case. The first set of approaches, such as domain randomization, train a policy on a distribution of environments, and optimize the average performance of the policy on these environments. While these methods have been successfully applied to a number of areas (e.g., self-driving cars, robot locomotion and manipulation), their success rests critically on the design of the distribution of environments. Moreover, policies that do well on average are not guaranteed to get high reward on every environment. The policy that gets the highest reward on average might get very low reward on a small fraction of environments. The second set of approaches, typically referred to as robust RL, focus on the worst-case scenarios. The aim is to find a policy that gets high reward on every environment within some set. Robust RL can equivalently be viewed as a two-player game between the policy and an environment adversary. The policy tries to get high reward, while the environment adversary tries to tweak the dynamics and reward function of the environment so that the policy gets lower reward. One important property of the robust approach is that, unlike domain randomization, it is invariant to the ratio of easy and hard tasks. Whereas robust RL always evaluates a policy on the most challenging tasks, domain randomization will
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