Bridging Offline Reinforcement Learning and Imitation Learning: A Tale of Pessimism

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Authors

Paria Rashidinejad, Banghua Zhu, Cong Ma, Jiantao Jiao, Stuart Russell

Abstract

Offline (or batch) reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms seek to learn an optimal policy from a fixed dataset without active data collection. Based on the composition of the offline dataset, two main methods are used: imitation learning which is suitable for expert datasets, and vanilla offline RL which often requires uniform coverage datasets. From a practical standpoint, datasets often deviate from these two extremes and the exact data composition is usually unknown. To bridge this gap, we present a new offline RL framework that smoothly interpolates between the two extremes of data composition, hence unifying imitation learning and vanilla offline RL. The new framework is centered around a weak version of the concentrability coefficient that measures the deviation of the behavior policy from the expert policy alone. Under this new framework, we ask: can one develop an algorithm that achieves a minimax optimal rate adaptive to unknown data composition? To address this question, we consider a lower confidence bound (LCB) algorithm developed based on pessimism in the face of uncertainty in offline RL. We study finite-sample properties of LCB as well as information-theoretic limits in multi-armed bandits, contextual bandits, and Markov decision processes (MDPs). Our analysis reveals surprising facts about optimality rates. In particular, in both contextual bandits and RL, LCB achieves a faster rate of $1/N$ for nearly-expert datasets compared to the usual rate of $1/\sqrt{N}$ in offline RL, where $N$ is the batch dataset sample size. In contextual bandits with at least two contexts, we prove that LCB is adaptively optimal for the entire data composition range, achieving a smooth transition from imitation learning to offline RL. We further show that LCB is almost adaptively optimal in MDPs.