Provably Safe PAC-MDP Exploration Using Analogies

Melrose Roderick · Vaishnavh Nagarajan · Zico Kolter

Keywords: [ Reinforcement Learning ]


A key challenge in applying reinforcement learning to safety-critical domains is understanding how to balance exploration (needed to attain good performance on the task) with safety (needed to avoid catastrophic failure). Although a growing line of work in reinforcement learning has investigated this area of "safe exploration," most existing techniques either 1) do not guarantee safety during the actual exploration process; and/or 2) limit the problem to a priori known and/or deterministic transition dynamics with strong smoothness assumptions. Addressing this gap, we propose Analogous Safe-state Exploration (ASE), an algorithm for provably safe exploration in MDPs with unknown, stochastic dynamics. Our method exploits analogies between state-action pairs to safely learn a near-optimal policy in a PAC-MDP sense. Additionally, ASE also guides exploration towards the most task-relevant states, which empirically results in significant improvements in terms of sample efficiency, when compared to existing methods.

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