The success of popular algorithms for deep reinforcement learning, such as policy-gradients and Q-learning, relies heavily on the availability of an informative reward signal at each timestep of the sequential decision-making process. When rewards are only sparsely available during an episode, or a rewarding feedback is provided only after episode termination, these algorithms perform sub-optimally due to the difficultly in credit assignment. Alternatively, trajectory-based policy optimization methods, such as cross-entropy method and evolution strategies, do not require per-timestep rewards, but have been found to suffer from high sample complexity by completing forgoing the temporal nature of the problem. Improving the efficiency of RL algorithms in real-world problems with sparse or episodic rewards is therefore a pressing need. In this work, we introduce a self-imitation learning algorithm that exploits and explores well in the sparse and episodic reward settings. We view each policy as a state-action visitation distribution and formulate policy optimization as a divergence minimization problem. We show that with Jensen-Shannon divergence, this divergence minimization problem can be reduced into a policy-gradient algorithm with shaped rewards learned from experience replays. Experimental results indicate that our algorithm works comparable to existing algorithms in environments with dense rewards, and significantly better in environments with sparse and episodic rewards. We then discuss limitations of self-imitation learning, and propose to solve them by using Stein variational policy gradient descent with the Jensen-Shannon kernel to learn multiple diverse policies. We demonstrate its effectiveness on a challenging variant of continuous-control MuJoCo locomotion tasks.
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