Optimal Decision Tree Policies for Markov Decision Processes

January, 2023


Interpretability of reinforcement learning policies is essential for many real-world tasks but learning such interpretable policies is a hard problem. Particularly rule-based policies such as decision trees and rules lists are difficult to optimize due to their non-differentiability. While existing techniques can learn verifiable decision tree policies there is no guarantee that the learners generate a decision that performs optimally. In this work, we study the optimization of size-limited decision trees for Markov Decision Processes (MPDs) and propose OMDTs: Optimal MDP Decision Trees. Given a user-defined size limit and MDP formulation OMDT directly maximizes the expected discounted return for the decision tree using Mixed-Integer Linear Programming. By training optimal decision tree policies for different MDPs we empirically study the optimality gap for existing imitation learning techniques and find that they perform sub-optimally. We show that this is due to an inherent shortcoming of imitation learning, namely that complex policies cannot be represented using size-limited trees. In such cases, it is better to directly optimize the tree for expected return. While there is generally a trade-off between the performance and interpretability of machine learning models, we find that OMDTs limited to a depth of 3 often perform close to the optimal limit.

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