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Temporal difference (TD) learning refers to a class of model-free reinforcement learning methods which learn by bootstrapping from the current estimate of the value function. These methods sample from the environment, like Monte Carlo methods, and perform updates based on current estimates, like dynamic programming methods.
While Monte Carlo methods only adjust their estimates once the final outcome is known, TD methods adjust predictions to match later, more accurate, predictions about the future before the final outcome is known. This is a form of bootstrapping, as illustrated with the following example:
Suppose you wish to predict the weather for Saturday, and you have some model that predicts Saturday's weather, given the weather of each day in the week. In the standard case, you would wait until Saturday and then adjust all your models. However, when it is, for example, Friday, you should have a pretty good idea of what the weather would be on Saturday – and thus be able to change, say, Saturday's model before Saturday arrives.
Temporal difference methods are related to the temporal difference model of animal learning.
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