Sparse Feature Selection Makes Batch Reinforcement Learning More Sample Efficient

This paper provides a statistical analysis of high-dimensional batch Reinforcement Learning (RL) using sparse linear function approximation. When there is a large number of candidate features, our result sheds light on the fact that sparsity-aware methods can make batch RL more sample efficient. We first consider the off-policy policy evaluation problem. To evaluate a new target policy, we analyze a Lasso fitted Q-evaluation method and establish a finite-sample error bound that has no polynomial dependence on the ambient dimension. To reduce the Lasso bias, we further propose a post model-selection estimator that applies fitted Q-evaluation to the features selected via group Lasso. Under an additional signal strength assumption, we derive a sharper instance-dependent error bound that depends on a divergence function measuring the distribution mismatch between the data distribution and occupancy measure of the target policy. Further, we study the Lasso fitted Q-iteration for batch policy optimization and establish a finite-sample error bound depending on the ratio between the number of relevant features and restricted minimal eigenvalue of the data’s covariance. In the end, we complement the results with minimax lower bounds for batch-data policy evaluation/optimization that nearly match our upper bounds. The results suggest that having well-conditioned data is crucial for sparse batch policy learning.

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