Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 (NeurIPS 2021)
Thomas Spooner, Nelson Vadori, Sumitra Ganesh
Policy gradient methods can solve complex tasks but often fail when the dimensionality of the action-space or objective multiplicity grow very large. This occurs, in part, because the variance on score-based gradient estimators scales quadratically. In this paper, we address this problem through a factor baseline which exploits independence structure encoded in a novel action-target influence network. Factored policy gradients (FPGs), which follow, provide a common framework for analysing key state-of-the-art algorithms, are shown to generalise traditional policy gradients, and yield a principled way of incorporating prior knowledge of a problem domain's generative processes. We provide an analysis of the proposed estimator and identify the conditions under which variance is reduced. The algorithmic aspects of FPGs are discussed, including optimal policy factorisation, as characterised by minimum biclique coverings, and the implications for the bias variance trade-off of incorrectly specifying the network. Finally, we demonstrate the performance advantages of our algorithm on large-scale bandit and traffic intersection problems, providing a novel contribution to the latter in the form of a spatial approximation.