Organizing Experience: A Deeper Look at Replay Mechanisms for Sample-based Planning in Continuous State Domains

Model-based strategies for control are critical to obtain sample efficient learning. Dyna is a planning paradigm that naturally interleaves learning and planning, by simulating one-step experience to update the action-value function. This elegant planning strategy has been mostly explored in the tabular setting. The aim of this paper is to revisit sample-based planning, in stochastic and continuous domains with learned models. We first highlight the flexibility afforded by a model over Experience Replay (ER). Replay-based methods can be seen as stochastic planning methods that repeatedly sample from a buffer of recent agent-environment interactions and perform updates to improve data efficiency. We show that a model, as opposed to a replay buffer, is particularly useful for specifying which states to sample from during planning, such as predecessor states that propagate information in reverse from a state more quickly. We introduce a semi-parametric model learning approach, called Reweighted Experience Models (REMs), that makes it simple to sample next states or predecessors. We demonstrate that REM-Dyna exhibits similar advantages over replay-based methods in learning in continuous state problems, and that the performance gap grows when moving to stochastic domains, of increasing size.