Neural Information Processing Systems Foundation (NeurIPS 2019)
RUDDER is a novel reinforcement learning approach for delayed rewards in finite Markov decision processes (MDPs). In MDPs the Q-values are equal to the expected immediate reward plus the expected future rewards, which are related to bias problems in temporal difference (TD) learning and to high variance problems in Monte Carlo (MC) learning. Both problems are even more severe when rewards are delayed. RUDDER aims at making the expected future rewards equal to zero, which simplifies Q-value estimation to computing the mean of the immediate reward. We propose the following two new concepts to push the expected future rewards toward zero. Reward redistribution that leads to return-equivalent decision processes with the same optimal policies and, when optimal, zero expected future rewards. Return decomposition via contribution analysis which transforms the reinforcement learning task into a regression task at which deep learning excels. On artificial tasks with delayed rewards, RUDDER is significantly faster than MC and exponentially faster than Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS), TD(lambda), and reward shaping approaches.