# Towards a Unified Theory of State Abstraction for MDPs

## Introduction

• The paper studies five different techniques for stat abstraction in MDPs (Markov Decision Processes) and evaluates their usefulness for planning and learning.

• The general idea behind abstraction is to map the actual (or observed) state to an abstract state that should be more amenable for learning.

• It can be thought of as a mapping from one representation to another representation while preserving some useful properties.

• Link to the paper

## General Definition

• Consider a MDP $% %]]>$ where $S$ is the finite set of states, $A$ is finite set of actions, $P$ is the transition function, $R$ is the bounded reward function and $\gamma$ is the discount factor.

• The abstract version of the MDP is $% %]]>$ where $\widetilde{S}$ is the finite set if abstract states, $\widetilde{P}$ is the transition function in the abstract state space and $\widetilde{R}$ is the bounded reward function in the abstract reward space.

• Abstraction function $\phi$ is a function that maps a given state $s$ to its abstract counterpart $\widetilde{s}$.

• The inverse image $\phi^{-1}(\widetilde{s})$ is the set of ground states that map to the $\widetilde{s}$ under the abstraction function $\phi$.

• A wieghing functioon $w(s)$ is used to measure how much does a state $s$ contribute to the abstract state $\phi(s)$.

## Topology of Abstraction Space

• Given two abstraction functions $\phi_{1}$ and $\phi_{2}$, $\phi_{1}$ is said to be finer than $\phi_{2}$ iff for any states $s_{1}, s_{2}$ if $\phi_{1}(s_{1}) = \phi_{1}(s_{2})$ then $\phi_{2}(s_{1}) = \phi_{2}(s_{2})$.

• This finer relation is reflex, antisymmetric, transitive and partially ordered.

## Five Types of Abstraction

• While many abstractions are possible, not all abstractions are equally important.

• Model-irrelevance abstraction $\phi_{model}$:

• If two states $s_{1}$ and $s_{2}$ have the same abstracted state, then their one-step model is preserved.

• Consider any action $a$ and any abstract state $\widetilde{s}$, if $\phi_{model}(s_{1} = \phi_{model}(s_{2})$ then $R(s_1, a) = R(s_2, a)$ and $\sum_{s' \in \phi_{model}^{-1}\widetilde(s)}P_{s_1, s'}^{a} = \sum_{s' \in \phi_{model}^{-1}\widetilde(s)}P_{s_2, s'}^{a}$.

• $Q^{\pi}$-irrelevance abstraction:

• It preserves the state-action value finction for all the states.

• $\phi_{Q^{\pi}}(s_1) = \phi_{Q^{\pi}}(s_2)$ implies $Q^{\pi}(s_1, a) = Q^{\pi}(s_1, a)$.

• $Q^{*}$-irrelevance abstraction:

• It preserves the optimal state-action value function.
• $a^{*}$-irrelevance abstraction:

• It preserves the optimal action and its value function.
• $\phi_{\pi^{*}}$-irrelevance abstraction:

• It preserves the optimal action.
• In terms of fineness, $\phi_0 \geq \phi_{model} \geq \phi_{Q^{\pi}} \geq \phi_{Q^*} \geq \phi_{a^*} \geq \phi_{\pi^*}$. Here $\phi_0$ is the identity mapping ie $\phi_0(s) = s$

• If a property applies to any abstraction, it also applies to all the finer abstractions.

## Key Theorems

• As we go from finer to coarser abstractions, the information loss increases (ie fewer components can be recovered) while the state-space reduces (ie the efficiency of solving the problem increases). This leads to a tradeoff when selecting abstractions.

• For example, with abstractions $\phi_{model}, \phi_{Q^{\pi}}, \phi_{Q^*}, \phi_{a^*}$, the optimal abstract policy $\widetilde(\pi)^*$ is optimal in the ground MDP.

• Similarly, if each state-action pair is visited infinitely often and the step-size decays properly, Q-learning with $\phi_{model}, \phi_{Q^{\pi}}, \phi_{Q^*}$ converges to the optimal state-action value functions in the MDP. More conditions are needed for convergence in the case of the remaining two abstractions.

• For $\phi_{model}, \phi_{Q^{\pi}}, \phi_{Q^*}, \phi_{a^*}$, the model built with the experience converges to the true abstract model with infinite experience if the weighing function $w(s)$ is fixed.