This was part of Decision Making and Uncertainty

On the Foundations of Distributionally Robust Reinforcement Learning

Jose Blanchet, Stanford University

Monday, February 5, 2024

Abstract: Motivated by the need for a robust policy in the face of environment shifts between training and the deployment, we contribute to the theoretical foundation of distributionally robust reinforcement learning (DRRL). This is accomplished through a comprehensive modeling framework centered around distributionally robust Markov decision processes (DRMDPs). This framework obliges the decision maker to choose an optimal policy under the worst-case distributional shift orchestrated by an adversary. By unifying and extending existing formulations, we rigorously construct DRMDPs that embraces various modeling attributes for both the decision maker and the adversary. These attributes include adaptability granularity, exploring history-dependent, Markov, and Markov time-homogeneous decision maker and adversary dynamics. Additionally, we delve into the flexibility of shifts induced by the adversary, examining SA and S-rectangularity. Within this DRMDP framework, we investigate conditions for the existence or absence of the dynamic programming principle (DPP). From an algorithmic standpoint, the existence of DPP holds significant implications, as the vast majority of existing data and computationally efficiency RL algorithms are reliant on the DPP. To study its existence, we comprehensively examine combinations of controller and adversary attributes, providing streamlined proofs grounded in a unified methodology. We also offer counterexamples for settings in which a DPP with full generality is absent.