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Reinforcement Learning Tutorial: Hands-on Implementation With Python

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Reinforcement Learning has been the main driver of emerging technology in recent times. It is the base of all the solutions, from self-driving cars to AI chatbots. Reinforcement Learning has revolutionized the world, and now reinforcement learning-based robots are utilized to perform numerous tasks in the industry. 

The global artificial intelligence (AI) market is predicted to grow swiftly in the upcoming years, reaching around 126 billion dollars by 2025. The AI market includes a vast array of applications, which include natural language processing, robotic process automation, and machine learning. 

Reinforcement Learning plays a significant role in developing recommendation systems for news feeds, products, or videos. The systems aim to personalize product recommendations and nurture the recommendation engine.

In this article, we will explore reinforcement learning, its applications, and how to train a simple agent of reinforcement learning using Python. 

Let’s dive deep into Reinforcement Learning!

What is Reinforcement Learning?

Reinforcement learning (RL) is a type of machine learning where an agent learns to make decisions by interacting with an environment with the goal of maximizing a cumulative reward signal. The agent learns through trial and error, taking actions and observing the rewards or consequences. The agent uses experience to update its decision-making strategy over time and takes steps that lead to higher rewards. 

Overall, Reinforcement Learning has the potential to bring about significant advancements in many fields, like Robotics, Gameplay, Healthcare, Self-driving cars, Supply chain logistics, and finance.

Future Potential of Reinforcement Learning 

Some of the key factors that make RL, particularly promising for the future include:

  • Sample efficiency

Reinforcement learning algorithms can often learn from a small amount of data and make them well-suited for real-world applications where data is limited or expensive to collect.

  • Flexibility

RL-powered systems can learn to perform a wide range of tasks and adapt to new changes in their environment.

  • Scalability 

Many RL algorithms can be easily scaled to handle large and more complex problems.

  • Human-like learning

RL has the potential to learn and improve similarly to humans by trial and error.

Important Terminologies in Reinforcement Learning 

Here are some important terminologies used in reinforcement learning:

  • Agent

It is the decision-making entity in the environment. For instance, while training a self-driving car, unless it hits things in its direction, it will be getting positive rewards. Once it dashes an obstacle, it will receive a negative reward or punishment.

  • Environment

 The world in which the agent interacts, including the state and actions of the system.

  • State

The current situation or context in which the agent finds itself.

  • Action

The decisions made by the agent affect the state of the environment.

  • Reward

A signal is used to evaluate the agent’s actions, indicating how well the agent is performing the task.

  • Policy

The strategy used by the agent to determine its actions is based on the current state of the environment.

  • Value Function

A measure of the long-term expected reward for an agent following a particular policy.

  • Q-Function

A measure of the expected reward for an agent taking a specific action in a given state and following a specific policy thereafter.

  • Model

An approximation of the environment that the agent can use to make predictions about the effects of its actions.

  • Exploration vs. Exploitation

The trade-off that the agent faces in deciding whether to try new actions (explore) or stick with actions that it knows are good (exploit).

How to Train the Reinforcement Learning Model?

Reinforcement Learning (RL) models are trained by interacting with an environment and receiving rewards for certain actions. The process can be broken down into the following steps:

  1. Define the environment: The environment defines the state space and the action space of the agent. It also determines the reward signal and the dynamics of the system.
  2. Define the agent: The agent is the RL model that interacts with the environment. It has a policy that maps states to actions and a value function that estimates the expected future rewards.
  3. Collect experience: The agent interacts with the environment and collects experience in the form of (state, action, reward, next state) tuples.
  4. Update the agent’s policy and value function: The agent updates its policy and value function based on the collected experience. This is done using techniques such as Q-learning or policy gradient methods.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for a sufficient number of episodes or until the agent’s performance converges.
  6. Evaluate the agent: The agent’s performance is evaluated by measuring its reward over time in the environment.

It is important to note that the process of training an RL model can be challenging and requires a lot of experimentation with different architectures and hyperparameters.

Some Commonly Used Reinforcement Learning Algorithms 

Some commonly used reinforcement learning algorithms include Q-learning, SARSA, and REINFORCE. Other popular algorithms include Deep Deterministic Policy Gradient (DDPG), Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO), and Twin Delayed DDPG (TD3).

These reinforcement learning algorithms are explained in detail below: 

  • Q-Learning 

Q-learning is an off-policy algorithm, which means that it does not require the agent to follow the current policy during learning. Instead, it uses a Q-table to update the action-value function, Q(s, a), which estimates the expected long-term reward for taking a specific action in a specific state. The Q-table is updated using the Bellman equation, which states that the expected value of the action-value function is the immediate reward plus the discounted value of the next state.

The algorithm updates the Q-table iteratively by choosing actions that maximize the expected reward and updating the Q-value accordingly.


SARSA is an on-policy algorithm, which means that it requires the agent to follow the current policy during learning. It also uses a Q-table to update the action-value function, but it differs from Q-learning in that it uses the current policy to determine the next action rather than the greedy action. It means that the agent takes into account the probability of taking different actions when updating the Q-table.


REINFORCE is a policy gradient algorithm which means that it updates the policy directly rather than updating the action-value function. The algorithm uses the gradient of the expected reward with respect to the policy parameters to update the policy. The expected reward is estimated using Monte Carlo rollouts, where the agent follows the current policy to collect a series of episodes, and the rewards from those episodes are used to estimate the expected reward.

Real-Life Applications of Reinforcement Learning 

Below is the cherry-picked list of the most prominent applications of Reinforcement Learning and how it is shaping the future of AI.

  • Robotics 

RL is used to train robots to perform tasks by interacting with the environment and receiving feedback in the form of rewards or penalties. It can be applied to tasks such as grasping objects, navigation, and manipulation. 

RL can enable robots to learn from experience, adapt to new situations, and improve their performance over time.

  • Healthcare

RL is used to optimize treatment plans for patients with chronic conditions and to develop personalized medicine. The agent learns to make decisions by interacting with patient data and receiving feedback in the form of rewards or penalties.

  • Industrial control

Reinforcement Learning is used to optimize control systems for industrial processes such as manufacturing, energy management, and transportation.

  • Natural Language Processing 

Reinforcement Learning (RL) is used in Natural Language Processing (NLP) because of its ability to make decisions. The agent, in this case, tries to understand the meaning of a sentence and chooses an action that maximizes its value. Due to the complexity of the task, the state and action space is large, making RL a suitable choice. 

RL is used in various NLP tasks such as text summarization, question answering, language translation, dialogue generation, and more.

Challenges of Reinforcement Learning 

Reinforcement learning (RL) is a powerful approach for training agents to perform a wide range of tasks, but it also has several challenges that can make it difficult to apply in practice:

  1. Exploration vs. Exploitation: The agent must balance between exploring the environment to learn about new states and actions, and exploiting the knowledge it has gained to maximize its rewards. This can be challenging because the optimal exploration strategy can vary depending on the task and the agent’s current knowledge.
  2. Delayed Rewards: In many RL tasks, the agent only receives a reward for its actions after a long series of steps. This can make it difficult for the agent to determine the cause-and-effect relationship between its actions and the rewards it receives, which can slow down the learning process.
  3. High-Dimensional State and Action Spaces: RL problems can have large state and action spaces and can make it difficult for the agent to represent and learn the necessary information.
  4. Non-Stationarity: The environment in which an RL agent operates is often non-stationary, meaning it can change over time. It can make it difficult for the agent to adapt its policy to the new conditions.
  5. Sample Inefficiency: RL algorithms are known to require a lot of data and can take a long time to converge.
  6. Stochasticity: Many real-world systems are inherently stochastic, meaning that the agent’s actions may not have the same effect from one instance to the next. It can make it difficult for the agent to learn a reliable policy.

Practical Implementation of Reinforcement Learning in Python

In this section, we will train a trading bot of reinforcement learning using GME trading data. Our reinforcement learning agent will learn from the trading data and predict accordingly about the trading stock. The Python libraries gym_anytrading and stable_baselines will be used to train the reinforcement learning agent.

The gym-anytrading library provides an open-source reinforcement learning environment for training trading algorithms using the OpenAI Gym interface. It allows users to easily simulate and backtest various trading strategies using historical market data and can be used for both research and production purposes. 

The library supports multiple data sources, including local files and APIs for various exchanges, and provides a simple and flexible API for defining custom trading environments and reward functions.

Stable Baselines is a set of high-quality implementations of reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms in Python. It is built on top of the OpenAI Baselines library and makes it easy to train and evaluate a wide variety of RL algorithms in different environments. It supports multiple backends for parallelization, including MPI, OpenMP, and threading. It also includes several features for logging, monitoring, and visualizing training progress and results.

Importing  libraries 

First, we need to import the necessary libraries for reinforcement learning tasks. 

#First import these libraries

import gym

import gym_anytrading

from stable_baselines.common.vec_env import DummyVecEnv

from stable_baselines import A2C

# Data Processing & visualization libraries

import numpy as np

import pandas as pd

from matplotlib import pyplot as plt

Now let’s load the GME trading dataset into our jupyter notebook. You can easily download the dataset from the given link of MarketWatch.

Loading the GME Dataset

my_data = pd.read_csv(‘data/gmedata.csv’)


This code reads in the “gmedata.csv” file located in the “data” folder and stores it in the variable “my_data”. The my_data.head() method is then called, which returns the first 5 rows of the dataframe, allowing you to preview the data. It’s important to note that this code assumes that the file is in the correct location and that the required library pandas is installed.

The dtypes function returns the data types of the given columns in the dataset. 

my_data[‘Date’] = pd.to_datetime(my_data[‘Date’])


This code sets the ‘Date’ column as the index of the DataFrame my_data and then returns the first five rows of my_data by calling the head() method. The set_index() method is used to set the DataFrame index using one of its columns, and the inplace parameter, when set to True, modifies the DataFrame in place and does not return a new DataFrame

my_data.set_index(‘Date’, inplace=True)


signal_features is a parameter in the gym.make() function that is being used to create an instance of the stocks-v0 environment. It appears to be used to specify the features of the signal that will be used to train the agent in the environment.  The other two parameters, frame_bound, and window_size, are used to set the range of frames and the window size of the signal.

env = gym.make(‘stocks-v0’, my_data=my_data, frame_bound=(5,100), window_size=5)


Build Environment 

#Now Let’s build the Environment 

state = env.reset()

while True: 

    action = env.action_space.sample()

    n_state, reward, done, info = env.step(action)

    if done: 

        print(“info”, info)





Build Environment and Training 

env_maker = lambda: gym.make(‘stocks-v0’, my_data=my_data, frame_bound=(5,100), window_size=5)

env = DummyVecEnv([env_maker])

model = A2C(‘MlpLstmPolicy’, env, verbose=1) 


This code creates an instance of the A2C (Advantage Actor-Critic) algorithm with a MlpLstmPolicy (a neural network policy that uses an LSTM layer) and an environment variable. The learning method is then called on the model with a total number of timesteps set to 1,000,000. A2C is a reinforcement learning algorithm that uses both the policy gradient and value-based methods to train the agent to perform a certain task in an environment.

The agent will interact with the environment and learn from the rewards it receives throughout 1,000,000 timesteps. The verbose=1 flag is for printing log information during the training process.

Evaluating the Agent Performance 

Now let’s create an environment for a stock trading simulation using the gym library, with custom data “my_data”, a frame bound between 90 and 110, and a window size of 5. The environment is reset and the model takes an action based on the current observation (obs). The environment then updates the observation, rewards, and done status based on the action. If the done status is true, it prints the info and the loop breaks.

env = gym.make(‘stocks-v0’, my_data=my_data, frame_bound=(90,110), window_size=5)

obs = env.reset()

while True: 

    obs = obs[np.newaxis, …]

    action, _states = model.predict(obs)

    obs, rewards, done, info = env.step(action)

    if done:

        print(“info”, info)






Reinforcement learning is a powerful technique for training artificial agents to make decisions in complex and dynamic environments. RL algorithms can optimize performance and achieve a wide range of goals, from simple tasks like playing games to more complex applications such as controlling robots or self-driving cars.

While RL has made significant progress in recent years still much to be done to understand and harness its capabilities, in particular, researchers are working on developing more efficient and stable algorithms and applying RL to a broader range of problems. 

Overall, RL has the potential to be a game-changer in the field of AI, and its continued development will have a great impact on the future of technology.

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