The Second Type of Uncertainty in Monte Carlo Tree Search

Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS) efficiently balances exploration and exploitation in tree search based on count-derived uncertainty. However, these local visit counts ignore a second type of uncertainty induced by the size of the subtree below an action. We first show how, due to the lack of this second uncertainty type, MCTS may completely fail in well-known sparse exploration problems, known from the reinforcement learning community. We then introduce a new algorithm, which estimates the size of the subtree below an action, and leverages this information in the UCB formula to better direct exploration. Subsequently, we generalize these ideas by showing that loops, ie, the repeated occurrence of (approximately) the same state in the same trace, are actually a special case of subtree depth variation. Testing on a variety of tasks shows that our algorithms increase sample efficiency, especially when the planning budget per timestep is small.

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