The XCS classifier system represents a major advance in learning classifier systems research because (1) it has a sound and accurate generalization mechanism, and (2) its learning mechanism is based on Q-learning, a recognized learning technique. In taking XCS beyond its very first environments and parameter settings, we show that, in certain difficult sequential (“animat”) environments, performance is poor. We suggest that this occurs because in the chosen environments, some conditions for proper functioning of the generalization mechanism do not hold, resulting in overly general classifiers that cause reduced performance. We hypothesize that one such condition is a lack of sufficiently wide exploration of the environment during learning. We show that if XCS is forced to explore its environment more completely, performance improves dramatically. We propose a technique, based on Sutton's Dyna concept, through which wider exploration would occur naturally. Separately, we demonstrate that the compactness of the representation evolved by XCS is limited by the number of instances of each generalization actually present in the environment. The paper shows that XCS's generalization mechanism is effective, but that the conditions under which it works must be clearly understood.

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