# ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: PASSIVE LEARNING IN AN UNKNOWN ENVIRONMENT

The previous section dealt with the case in which the environment model M is already known. Notice that of the three approaches, only the dynamic programming method used the model in full. TD uses information about connectedness of states, but only from the current training sequence. (As we mentioned before, all utility-learning methods will use the model during subsequent action selection.) Hence LMS and TD will operate unchanged in an initially unknown environment. The adaptive dynamic programming approach simply adds a step to PASSIVE-RL-AGENT that updates an estimated model of the environment.

Then the estimated model is used as the basis for a dynamic programming phase to calculate the corresponding utility estimates after each observation. As the environment model approaches the correct model, the utility estimates will, of course, converge to the correct utilities. Because the environment model usually changes only slightly with each observation, the dynamic programming phase can use value iteration with the previous utility estimates as initial values and usually converges quite quickly. The environment model is learned by direct observation of transitions. In an accessible environment, each percept identifies the state, and hence each transition provides a direct input/output example for the transition function represented by M.

The transition function is usually stochastic—that is, it specifies a probability for each possible successor rather than a single state. A reinforcement learning agent can use any of the techniques for learning stochastic functions from examples discussed in Chapters 18 and 19. We discuss their application further in Section 20.7. Continuing with our tabular representation for the environment, we can update the environment model M simply by keeping track of the percentage of times each state transitions to each of its neighbors. Using this simple technique in the 4 x 3 world from Figure 20.1, we obtain the learning performance shown in Figure 20.8.

Notice that the ADP method converges far faster than either LMS or TD learning. The ADP approach and the TD approach are actually closely related. Both try to make local adjustments to the utility estimates in order to make each state "agree" with its successors. One minor difference is that TD adjusts a state to agree with its observed successor (Equation (20.2)), whereas ADP adj usts the state to agree with all of the successors that might occur given an optimal action choice, weighted by their probabilities (Equation (20.1)). This difference disappears when the effects of TD adjustments are averaged over a large number of transitions, because the frequency of each successor in the set of transitions is approximately proportional to its probability.

A more important difference is that whereas TD makes a single adjustment per observed transition, ADP makes as many as it needs to restore consistency between the utility estimates U and the environment model M. Although the observed transition only makes a local change in M, its effects may need to be propagated throughout U. Thus, TD can be viewed as a crude but efficient first approximation to ADP. Each adjustment made by ADP could be viewed, from the TD point of view, as a result of a "pseudo-experience" generated by simulating the current environment model. It is possible to extend the TD approach to use an environment model to generate several pseudo-experiences — transitions that the TD agent can imagine might happen given its current model. For each observed transition, the TD agent can generate a large number of imaginary transitions.

In this way, the resulting utility estimates will approximate more and more closely those of ADP—of course, at the expense of increased computation time. In a similar vein, we can generate more efficient versions of ADP by directly approximating the algorithms for value iteration or policy iteration. Recall that full value iteration can be intractable when the number of states is large. Many of the adjustment steps, however, are extremely tiny. One possible approach to generating reasonably good answers quickly is to bound the number of adjustments made after each observed transition. One can also use a heuristic to rank the possible adjustments so as to carry out only the most significant ones.

The prioritized-sweeping heuristic prefers to make adjustments to states whose likely successors have just undergone a large adjustment in their own utility estimates. Using heuristics like this, approximate ADP algorithms usually can learn roughly as fast as full ADP, in terms of the number of training sequences, but can be several orders of magnitude more efficient in terms of computation (see Exercise 20.3). This enables them to handle state spaces that are far too large for full ADP. Approximate ADP algorithms have an additional advantage: in the early stages of learning a new environment, the environment model M often will be far from correct, so there is little point in calculating an exact utility function to match it. An approximation algorithm can use a minimum adjustment size that decreases as the environment model becomes more accurate. This eliminates the very long value iterations that can occur early in learning due to large changes in the model.

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