Exploiting the Sign of the Advantage Function to Learn Deterministic Policies in Continuous Domains

Matthieu Zimmer, Paul Weng

In the context of learning deterministic policies in continuous domains, we revisit an approach, which was first proposed in Continuous Actor Critic Learning Automaton (CACLA) and later extended in Neural Fitted Actor Critic (NFAC). This approach is based on a policy update different from that of deterministic policy gradient (DPG). Previous work has observed its excellent performance empirically, but a theoretical justification is lacking. To fill this gap, we provide a theoretical explanation to motivate this unorthodox policy update by relating it to another update and making explicit the objective function of the latter. We furthermore discuss in depth the properties of these updates to get a deeper understanding of the overall approach. In addition, we extend it and propose a new trust region algorithm, Penalized NFAC (PeNFAC). Finally, we experimentally demonstrate in several classic control problems that it surpasses the state-of-the-art algorithms to learn deterministic policies.

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