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Temporal abstraction in reinforcement learning

Doina Precup, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Decision making usually involves choosing among different courses of action over a broad range of time scales. For instance, a person planning a trip to a distant location makes high-level decisions regarding what means of transportation to use, but also chooses low-level actions, such as the movements for getting into a car. The problem of picking an appropriate time scale for reasoning and learning has been explored in artificial intelligence, control theory and robotics. In this dissertation we develop a framework that allows novel solutions to this problem, in the context of Markov Decision Processes (MDPs) and reinforcement learning. In this dissertation, we present a general framework for prediction, control and learning at multiple temporal scales. In this framework, temporally extended actions are represented by a way of behaving (a policy) together with a termination condition. An action represented in this way is called an option. Options can be easily incorporated in MDPs, allowing an agent to use existing controllers, heuristics for picking actions, or learned courses of action. The effects of behaving according to an option can be predicted using multi-time models, learned by interacting with the environment. In this dissertation we develop multi-time models, and we illustrate the way in which they can be used to produce plans of behavior very quickly, using classical dynamic programming or reinforcement learning techniques. The most interesting feature of our framework is that it allows an agent to work simultaneously with high-level and low-level temporal representations. The interplay of these levels can be exploited in order to learn and plan more efficiently and more accurately. We develop new algorithms that take advantage of this structure to improve the quality of plans, and to learn in parallel about the effects of many different options.

Subject Area

Computer science

Recommended Citation

Precup, Doina, "Temporal abstraction in reinforcement learning" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978540.