Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 23 (NIPS 2010)
Huan Xu, Shie Mannor
We consider Markov decision processes where the values of the parameters are uncertain. This uncertainty is described by a sequence of nested sets (that is, each set contains the previous one), each of which corresponds to a probabilistic guarantee for a different confidence level so that a set of admissible probability distributions of the unknown parameters is specified. This formulation models the case where the decision maker is aware of and wants to exploit some (yet imprecise) a-priori information of the distribution of parameters, and arises naturally in practice where methods to estimate the confidence region of parameters abound. We propose a decision criterion based on distributional robustness: the optimal policy maximizes the expected total reward under the most adversarial probability distribution over realizations of the uncertain parameters that is admissible (i.e., it agrees with the a-priori information). We show that finding the optimal distributionally robust policy can be reduced to a standard robust MDP where the parameters belong to a single uncertainty set, hence it can be computed in polynomial time under mild technical conditions.