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Adversarial Cheap Talk
Christopher Lu · Timon Willi · Alistair Letcher · Jakob Foerster

Tue Jul 25 05:00 PM -- 06:30 PM (PDT) @ Exhibit Hall 1 #815

Adversarial attacks in reinforcement learning (RL) often assume highly-privileged access to the victim’s parameters, environment, or data. Instead, this paper proposes a novel adversarial setting called a Cheap Talk MDP in which an Adversary can merely append deterministic messages to the Victim’s observation, resulting in a minimal range of influence. The Adversary cannot occlude ground truth, influence underlying environment dynamics or reward signals, introduce non-stationarity, add stochasticity, see the Victim’s actions, or access their parameters. Additionally, we present a simple meta-learning algorithm called Adversarial Cheap Talk (ACT) to train Adversaries in this setting. We demonstrate that an Adversary trained with ACT can still significantly influence the Victim’s training and testing performance, despite the highly constrained setting. Affecting train-time performance reveals a new attack vector and provides insight into the success and failure modes of existing RL algorithms. More specifically, we show that an ACT Adversary is capable of harming performance by interfering with the learner’s function approximation, or instead helping the Victim’s performance by outputting useful features. Finally, we show that an ACT Adversary can manipulate messages during train-time to directly and arbitrarily control the Victim at test-time.

Author Information

Christopher Lu (University of Oxford)
Timon Willi (University of Oxford)
Alistair Letcher (None)
Jakob Foerster (Oxford university)
Jakob Foerster

Jakob Foerster started as an Associate Professor at the department of engineering science at the University of Oxford in the fall of 2021. During his PhD at Oxford he helped bring deep multi-agent reinforcement learning to the forefront of AI research and interned at Google Brain, OpenAI, and DeepMind. After his PhD he worked as a research scientist at Facebook AI Research in California, where he continued doing foundational work. He was the lead organizer of the first Emergent Communication workshop at NeurIPS in 2017, which he has helped organize ever since and was awarded a prestigious CIFAR AI chair in 2019. His past work addresses how AI agents can learn to cooperate and communicate with other agents, most recently he has been developing and addressing the zero-shot coordination problem setting, a crucial step towards human-AI coordination.

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