Jul 2019 · Athena Scientific

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388

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This book considers large and challenging multistage decision problems, which can be solved in principle by dynamic programming (DP), but their exact solution is computationally intractable. We discuss solution methods that rely on approximations to produce suboptimal policies with adequate performance. These methods are collectively known by several essentially equivalent names: reinforcement learning, approximate dynamic programming, neuro-dynamic programming. They have been at the forefront of research for the last 25 years, and they underlie, among others, the recent impressive successes of self-learning in the context of games such as chess and Go.

Our subject has benefited greatly from the interplay of ideas from optimal control and from artificial intelligence, as it relates to reinforcement learning and simulation-based neural network methods. One of the aims of the book is to explore the common boundary between these two fields and to form a bridge that is accessible by workers with background in either field. Another aim is to organize coherently the broad mosaic of methods that have proved successful in practice while having a solid theoretical and/or logical foundation. This may help researchers and practitioners to find their way through the maze of competing ideas that constitute the current state of the art.

This book relates to several of our other books: Neuro-Dynamic Programming (Athena Scientific, 1996), Dynamic Programming and Optimal Control (4th edition, Athena Scientific, 2017), Abstract Dynamic Programming (2nd edition, Athena Scientific, 2018), and Nonlinear Programming (Athena Scientific, 2016).

However, the mathematical style of this book is somewhat different. While we provide a rigorous, albeit short, mathematical account of the theory of finite and infinite horizon dynamic programming, and some fundamental approximation methods, we rely more on intuitive explanations and less on proof-based insights. Moreover, our mathematical requirements are quite modest: calculus, a minimal use of matrix-vector algebra, and elementary probability (mathematically complicated arguments involving laws of large numbers and stochastic convergence are bypassed in favor of intuitive explanations).

The book illustrates the methodology with many examples and illustrations, and uses a gradual expository approach, which proceeds along four directions:

(a) From exact DP to approximate DP: We first discuss exact DP algorithms, explain why they may be difficult to implement, and then use them as the basis for approximations.

(b) From finite horizon to infinite horizon problems: We first discuss finite horizon exact and approximate DP methodologies, which are intuitive and mathematically simple, and then progress to infinite horizon problems.

(c) From deterministic to stochastic models: We often discuss separately deterministic and stochastic problems, since deterministic problems are simpler and offer special advantages for some of our methods.

(d) From model-based to model-free implementations: We first discuss model-based implementations, and then we identify schemes that can be appropriately modified to work with a simulator.

The book is related and supplemented by the companion research monograph Rollout, Policy Iteration, and Distributed Reinforcement Learning (Athena Scientific, 2020), which focuses more closely on several topics related to rollout, approximate policy iteration, multiagent problems, discrete and Bayesian optimization, and distributed computation, which are either discussed in less detail or not covered at all in the present book.

The author's website contains class notes, and a series of videolectures and slides from a 2021 course at ASU, which address a selection of topics from both books.

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Dimitri P. Bertsekas undergraduate studies were in engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece. He obtained his MS in electrical engineering at the George Washington University, Wash. DC in 1969, and his Ph.D. in system science in 1971 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Bertsekas has held faculty positions with the Engineering-Economic Systems Dept., Stanford University (1971-1974) and the Electrical Engineering Dept. of the University of Illinois, Urbana (1974-1979). From 1979 to 2019 he was with the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), where he served as McAfee Professor of Engineering. In 2019, he was appointed Fulton Professor of Computational Decision Making, and a full time faculty member at the department of Computer, Information, and Decision Systems Engineering at Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, while maintaining a research position at MIT. His research spans several fields, including optimization, control, large-scale computation, and data communication networks, and is closely tied to his teaching and book authoring activities. He has written numerous research papers, and eighteen books and research monographs, several of which are used as textbooks in MIT and ASU classes. Most recently Dr Bertsekas has been focusing on reinforcement learning, and authored a textbook in 2019, and a research monograph on its distributed and multiagent implementation aspects in 2020.

Professor Bertsekas was awarded the INFORMS 1997 Prize for Research Excellence in the Interface Between Operations Research and Computer Science for his book "Neuro-Dynamic Programming", the 2000 Greek National Award for Operations Research, the 2001 ACC John R. Ragazzini Education Award, the 2009 INFORMS Expository Writing Award, the 2014 ACC Richard E. Bellman Control Heritage Award for "contributions to the foundations of deterministic and stochastic optimization-based methods in systems and control," the 2014 Khachiyan Prize for Life-Time Accomplishments in Optimization, the SIAM/MOS 2015 George B. Dantzig Prize, and the 2022 IEEE Control Systems Award. In 2018, he was awarded, jointly with his coauthor John Tsitsiklis, the INFORMS John von Neumann Theory Prize, for the contributions of the research monographs "Parallel and Distributed Computation" and "Neuro-Dynamic Programming". In 2001, he was elected to the United States National Academy of Engineering for "pioneering contributions to fundamental research, practice and education of optimization/control theory, and especially its application to data communication networks."

Dr. Bertsekas' recent books are "Introduction to Probability: 2nd Edition" (2008), "Convex Optimization Theory" (2009), "Dynamic Programming and Optimal Control," Vol. I, (2017), and Vol. II: (2012), "Abstract Dynamic Programming" (2018), "Convex Optimization Algorithms" (2015), "Reinforcement Learning and Optimal Control" (2019), and "Rollout, Policy Iteration, and Distributed Reinforcement Learning" (2020), all published by Athena Scientific.

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