Tempo Adaptation in Non-stationary Reinforcement Learning

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Hyunin Lee, Yuhao Ding, Jongmin Lee, Ming Jin, Javad Lavaei, Somayeh Sojoudi


We first raise and tackle a ``time synchronization'' issue between the agent and the environment in non-stationary reinforcement learning (RL), a crucial factor hindering its real-world applications. In reality, environmental changes occur over wall-clock time ($t$) rather than episode progress ($k$), where wall-clock time signifies the actual elapsed time within the fixed duration $t \in [0, T]$. In existing works, at episode $k$, the agent rolls a trajectory and trains a policy before transitioning to episode $k+1$. In the context of the time-desynchronized environment, however, the agent at time $t_{k}$ allocates $\Delta t$ for trajectory generation and training, subsequently moves to the next episode at $t_{k+1}=t_{k}+\Delta t$. Despite a fixed total number of episodes ($K$), the agent accumulates different trajectories influenced by the choice of interaction times ($t_1,t_2,...,t_K$), significantly impacting the suboptimality gap of the policy. We propose a Proactively Synchronizing Tempo ($\texttt{ProST}$) framework that computes a suboptimal sequence {$t_1,t_2,...,t_K$} (= { $t_{1:K}$}) by minimizing an upper bound on its performance measure, i.e., the dynamic regret. Our main contribution is that we show that a suboptimal {$t_{1:K}$} trades-off between the policy training time (agent tempo) and how fast the environment changes (environment tempo). Theoretically, this work develops a suboptimal {$t_{1:K}$} as a function of the degree of the environment's non-stationarity while also achieving a sublinear dynamic regret. Our experimental evaluation on various high-dimensional non-stationary environments shows that the $\texttt{ProST}$ framework achieves a higher online return at suboptimal {$t_{1:K}$} than the existing methods.