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Near-Optimal Representation Learning for Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning

Ofir Nachum
Shixiang Gu
Honglak Lee
Sergey Levine
ICLR (2019)


We study the problem of representation learning in goal-conditioned hierarchical reinforcement learning. In such hierarchical structures, a higher-level controller solves tasks by iteratively communicating goals which a lower-level policy is trained to reach. Accordingly, the choice of representation – the mapping of observation space to goal space – is crucial. To study this problem, we develop a notion of sub optimality of a representation, defined in terms of expected reward of the optimal hierarchical policy using this representation. We derive expressions which bound the sub-optimality and show how these expressions can be translated to representation learning objectives which may be optimized in practice. Results on a number of difficult continuous-control tasks show that our approach to representation learning yields qualitatively better representations as well as quantitatively better hierarchical policies, compared to existing methods.

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