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Offline RL with Observation Histories: Analyzing and Improving Sample Complexity

Joey Hong · Anca Dragan · Sergey Levine

Halle B #277
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Thu 9 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT


Offline reinforcement learning (RL) can in principle synthesize more optimal behavior from a dataset consisting only of suboptimal trials. One way that this can happen is by "stitching" together the best parts of otherwise suboptimal trajectories that overlap on similar states, to create new behaviors where each individual state is in-distribution, but the overall returns are higher. However, in many interesting and complex applications, such as autonomous navigation and dialogue systems, the state is partially observed. Even worse, the state representation is unknown or not easy to define. In such cases, policies and value functions are often conditioned on observation histories instead of states. In these cases, it is not clear if the same kind of "stitching" is feasible at the level of observation histories, since two different trajectories would always have different histories, and thus "similar states" that might lead to effective stitching cannot be leveraged. Theoretically, we show that standard offline RL algorithms conditioned on observation histories suffer from poor sample complexity, in accordance with the above intuition. We then identify sufficient conditions under which offline RL can still be efficient -- intuitively, it needs to learn a compact representation of history comprising only features relevant for action selection. We introduce a bisimulation loss that captures the extent to which this happens, and propose that offline RL can explicitly optimize this loss to aid worst-case sample complexity. Empirically, we show that across a variety of tasks either our proposed loss improves performance, or the value of this loss is already minimized as a consequence of standard offline RL, indicating that it correlates well with good performance.

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