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Implicit Under-Parameterization Inhibits Data-Efficient Deep Reinforcement Learning

Aviral Kumar · Rishabh Agarwal · Dibya Ghosh · Sergey Levine

Keywords: [ offline RL ] [ rank-collapse ] [ data-efficient RL ] [ deep q-learning ]


We identify an implicit under-parameterization phenomenon in value-based deep RL methods that use bootstrapping: when value functions, approximated using deep neural networks, are trained with gradient descent using iterated regression onto target values generated by previous instances of the value network, more gradient updates decrease the expressivity of the current value network. We char- acterize this loss of expressivity via a drop in the rank of the learned value net- work features, and show that this typically corresponds to a performance drop. We demonstrate this phenomenon on Atari and Gym benchmarks, in both offline and online RL settings. We formally analyze this phenomenon and show that it results from a pathological interaction between bootstrapping and gradient-based optimization. We further show that mitigating implicit under-parameterization by controlling rank collapse can improve performance.

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