#Exploration: A Study of Count-Based Exploration for Deep Reinforcement Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Haoran Tang, Rein Houthooft, Davis Foote, Adam Stooke, OpenAI Xi Chen, Yan Duan, John Schulman, Filip DeTurck, Pieter Abbeel


Count-based exploration algorithms are known to perform near-optimally when used in conjunction with tabular reinforcement learning (RL) methods for solving small discrete Markov decision processes (MDPs). It is generally thought that count-based methods cannot be applied in high-dimensional state spaces, since most states will only occur once. Recent deep RL exploration strategies are able to deal with high-dimensional continuous state spaces through complex heuristics, often relying on optimism in the face of uncertainty or intrinsic motivation. In this work, we describe a surprising finding: a simple generalization of the classic count-based approach can reach near state-of-the-art performance on various high-dimensional and/or continuous deep RL benchmarks. States are mapped to hash codes, which allows to count their occurrences with a hash table. These counts are then used to compute a reward bonus according to the classic count-based exploration theory. We find that simple hash functions can achieve surprisingly good results on many challenging tasks. Furthermore, we show that a domain-dependent learned hash code may further improve these results. Detailed analysis reveals important aspects of a good hash function: 1) having appropriate granularity and 2) encoding information relevant to solving the MDP. This exploration strategy achieves near state-of-the-art performance on both continuous control tasks and Atari 2600 games, hence providing a simple yet powerful baseline for solving MDPs that require considerable exploration.