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Greedy Actor-Critic: A New Conditional Cross-Entropy Method for Policy Improvement

Samuel Neumann · Sungsu Lim · Ajin Joseph · Yangchen Pan · Adam White · Martha White

MH1-2-3-4 #107

Keywords: [ Reinforcement Learning ] [ cross-entropy method ] [ greedy actor-critic ] [ policy gradient ] [ entropy ] [ policy optimization ] [ actor-critic ]


Many policy gradient methods are variants of Actor-Critic (AC), where a value function (critic) is learned to facilitate updating the parameterized policy (actor). The update to the actor involves a log-likelihood update weighted by the action-values, with the addition of entropy regularization for soft variants. In this work, we explore an alternative update for the actor, based on an extension of the cross entropy method (CEM) to condition on inputs (states). The idea is to start with a broader policy and slowly concentrate around maximal actions, using a maximum likelihood update towards actions in the top percentile per state. The speed of this concentration is controlled by a proposal policy, that concentrates at a slower rate than the actor. We first provide a policy improvement result in an idealized setting, and then prove that our conditional CEM (CCEM) strategy tracks a CEM update per state, even with changing action-values. We empirically show that our Greedy AC algorithm, that uses CCEM for the actor update, performs better than Soft Actor-Critic and is much less sensitive to entropy-regularization.

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