Local policy search with Bayesian optimization

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 pre-proceedings (NeurIPS 2021)

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Sarah Müller, Alexander von Rohr, Sebastian Trimpe


Reinforcement learning (RL) aims to find an optimal policy by interaction with an environment. Consequently, learning complex behavior requires a vast number of samples, which can be prohibitive in practice. Nevertheless, instead of systematically reasoning and actively choosing informative samples, policy gradients for local search are often obtained from random perturbations. These random samples yield high variance estimates and hence are sub-optimal in terms of sample complexity. Actively selecting informative samples is at the core of Bayesian optimization, which constructs a probabilistic surrogate of the objective from past samples to reason about informative subsequent ones. In this paper, we propose to join both worlds. We develop an algorithm utilizing a probabilistic model of the objective function and its gradient. Based on the model, the algorithm decides where to query a noisy zeroth-order oracle to improve the gradient estimates. The resulting algorithm is a novel type of policy search method, which we compare to existing black-box algorithms. The comparison reveals improved sample complexity and reduced variance in extensive empirical evaluations on synthetic objectives. Further, we highlight the benefits of active sampling on popular RL benchmarks.