Optimizing over a Restricted Policy Class in MDPs



We address the problem of finding an optimal policy in a Markov decision process under a restricted policy class defined by the convex hull of a set of base policies. This problem is of great interest in applications in which a number of reasonably good (or safe) policies are already known and we are interested in optimizing in their convex hull. We first prove that solving this problem is NP-hard. We then propose an efficient algorithm that finds a policy whose performance is almost as good as that of the best convex combination of the base policies, under the assumption that the occupancy measures of the base policies have a large overlap. The running time of the proposed algorithm is linear in the number of states and polynomial in the number of base policies. A distinct advantage of the proposed algorithm is that, apart from the computation of the occupancy measures of the base policies, it does not need to interact with the environment during the optimization process. This is especially important (i) in problems that due to concerns such as safety, we are restricted in interacting with the environment only through the (safe) base policies, and (ii) in complex systems where estimating the value of a policy can be a time consuming process.

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