Truncating Temporal Differences: On the Efficient Implementation of TD(lambda) for Reinforcement Learning

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Abstract

Temporal difference (TD) methods constitute a class of methods for learning predictions in multi-step prediction problems, parameterized by a recency factor lambda. Currently the most important application of these methods is to temporal credit assignment in reinforcement learning. Well known reinforcement learning algorithms, such as AHC or Q-learning, may be viewed as instances of TD learning. This paper examines the issues of the efficient and general implementation of TD(lambda) for arbitrary lambda, for use with reinforcement learning algorithms optimizing the discounted sum of rewards. The traditional approach, based on eligibility traces, is argued to suffer from both inefficiency and lack of generality. The TTD (Truncated Temporal Differences) procedure is proposed as an alternative, that indeed only approximates TD(lambda), but requires very little computation per action and can be used with arbitrary function representation methods. The idea from which it is derived is fairly simple and not new, but probably unexplored so far. Encouraging experimental results are presented, suggesting that using lambda > 0 with the TTD procedure allows one to obtain a significant learning speedup at essentially the same cost as usual TD(0) learning.

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