Stochastic Approximation with Markov Noise: Analysis and applications in reinforcement learning

Prasenjit Karmakar

We present for the first time an asymptotic convergence analysis of two time-scale stochastic approximation driven by "controlled" Markov noise. In particular, the faster and slower recursions have non-additive controlled Markov noise components in addition to martingale difference noise. We analyze the asymptotic behavior of our framework by relating it to limiting differential inclusions in both time scales that are defined in terms of the ergodic occupation measures associated with the controlled Markov processes. Using a special case of our results, we present a solution to the off-policy convergence problem for temporal-difference learning with linear function approximation. We compile several aspects of the dynamics of stochastic approximation algorithms with Markov iterate-dependent noise when the iterates are not known to be stable beforehand. We achieve the same by extending the lock-in probability (i.e. the probability of convergence to a specific attractor of the limiting o.d.e. given that the iterates are in its domain of attraction after a sufficiently large number of iterations (say) n_0) framework to such recursions. We use these results to prove almost sure convergence of the iterates to the specified attractor when the iterates satisfy an "asymptotic tightness" condition. This, in turn, is shown to be useful in analyzing the tracking ability of general "adaptive" algorithms. Finally, we obtain the first informative error bounds on function approximation for the policy evaluation algorithm proposed by Basu et al. when the aim is to find the risk-sensitive cost represented using exponential utility. We show that this happens due to the absence of difference term in the earlier bound which is always present in all our bounds when the state space is large.

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