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Reinforcement Learning 6

Moderator: Ji Liu

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Tue 20 July 18:00 - 18:20 PDT

Decoupling Value and Policy for Generalization in Reinforcement Learning

Roberta Raileanu · Rob Fergus

Standard deep reinforcement learning algorithms use a shared representation for the policy and value function, especially when training directly from images. However, we argue that more information is needed to accurately estimate the value function than to learn the optimal policy. Consequently, the use of a shared representation for the policy and value function can lead to overfitting. To alleviate this problem, we propose two approaches which are combined to create IDAAC: Invariant Decoupled Advantage Actor-Critic. First, IDAAC decouples the optimization of the policy and value function, using separate networks to model them. Second, it introduces an auxiliary loss which encourages the representation to be invariant to task-irrelevant properties of the environment. IDAAC shows good generalization to unseen environments, achieving a new state-of-the-art on the Procgen benchmark and outperforming popular methods on DeepMind Control tasks with distractors. Our implementation is available at

Tue 20 July 18:20 - 18:25 PDT

Prioritized Level Replay

Minqi Jiang · Edward Grefenstette · Tim Rocktäschel

Environments with procedurally generated content serve as important benchmarks for testing systematic generalization in deep reinforcement learning. In this setting, each level is an algorithmically created environment instance with a unique configuration of its factors of variation. Training on a prespecified subset of levels allows for testing generalization to unseen levels. What can be learned from a level depends on the current policy, yet prior work defaults to uniform sampling of training levels independently of the policy. We introduce Prioritized Level Replay (PLR), a general framework for selectively sampling the next training level by prioritizing those with higher estimated learning potential when revisited in the future. We show TD-errors effectively estimate a level's future learning potential and, when used to guide the sampling procedure, induce an emergent curriculum of increasingly difficult levels. By adapting the sampling of training levels, PLR significantly improves sample-efficiency and generalization on Procgen Benchmark—matching the previous state-of-the-art in test return—and readily combines with other methods. Combined with the previous leading method, PLR raises the state-of-the-art to over 76% improvement in test return relative to standard RL baselines.

Tue 20 July 18:25 - 18:30 PDT

SECANT: Self-Expert Cloning for Zero-Shot Generalization of Visual Policies

Jim Fan · Guanzhi Wang · De-An Huang · Zhiding Yu · Li Fei-Fei · Yuke Zhu · Anima Anandkumar

Generalization has been a long-standing challenge for reinforcement learning (RL). Visual RL, in particular, can be easily distracted by irrelevant factors in high-dimensional observation space. In this work, we consider robust policy learning which targets zero-shot generalization to unseen visual environments with large distributional shift. We propose SECANT, a novel self-expert cloning technique that leverages image augmentation in two stages to decouple robust representation learning from policy optimization. Specifically, an expert policy is first trained by RL from scratch with weak augmentations. A student network then learns to mimic the expert policy by supervised learning with strong augmentations, making its representation more robust against visual variations compared to the expert. Extensive experiments demonstrate that SECANT significantly advances the state of the art in zero-shot generalization across 4 challenging domains. Our average reward improvements over prior SOTAs are: DeepMind Control (+26.5%), robotic manipulation (+337.8%), vision-based autonomous driving (+47.7%), and indoor object navigation (+15.8%). Code release and video are available at

Tue 20 July 18:30 - 18:35 PDT

GMAC: A Distributional Perspective on Actor-Critic Framework

Daniel Nam · Younghoon Kim · Chan Youn Park

In this paper, we devise a distributional framework on actor-critic as a solution to distributional instability, action type restriction, and conflation between samples and statistics. We propose a new method that minimizes the Cramér distance with the multi-step Bellman target distribution generated from a novel Sample-Replacement algorithm denoted SR(\lambda), which learns the correct value distribution under multiple Bellman operations. Parameterizing a value distribution with Gaussian Mixture Model further improves the efficiency and the performance of the method, which we name GMAC. We empirically show that GMAC captures the correct representation of value distributions and improves the performance of a conventional actor-critic method with low computational cost, in both discrete and continuous action spaces using Arcade Learning Environment (ALE) and PyBullet environment.

Tue 20 July 18:35 - 18:40 PDT

Goal-Conditioned Reinforcement Learning with Imagined Subgoals

Elliot Chane-Sane · Cordelia Schmid · Ivan Laptev

Goal-conditioned reinforcement learning endows an agent with a large variety of skills, but it often struggles to solve tasks that require more temporally extended reasoning. In this work, we propose to incorporate imagined subgoals into policy learning to facilitate learning of complex tasks. Imagined subgoals are predicted by a separate high-level policy, which is trained simultaneously with the policy and its critic. This high-level policy predicts intermediate states halfway to the goal using the value function as a reachability metric. We don’t require the policy to reach these subgoals explicitly. Instead, we use them to define a prior policy, and incorporate this prior into a KL-constrained policy iteration scheme to speed up and regularize learning. Imagined subgoals are used during policy learning, but not during test time, where we only apply the learned policy. We evaluate our approach on complex robotic navigation and manipulation tasks and show that it outperforms existing methods by a large margin.

Tue 20 July 18:40 - 18:45 PDT

Policy Gradient Bayesian Robust Optimization for Imitation Learning

Zaynah Javed · Daniel Brown · Satvik Sharma · Jerry Zhu · Ashwin Balakrishna · Marek Petrik · Anca Dragan · Ken Goldberg

The difficulty in specifying rewards for many real-world problems has led to an increased focus on learning rewards from human feedback, such as demonstrations. However, there are often many different reward functions that explain the human feedback, leaving agents with uncertainty over what the true reward function is. While most policy optimization approaches handle this uncertainty by optimizing for expected performance, many applications demand risk-averse behavior. We derive a novel policy gradient-style robust optimization approach, PG-BROIL, that optimizes a soft-robust objective that balances expected performance and risk. To the best of our knowledge, PG-BROIL is the first policy optimization algorithm robust to a distribution of reward hypotheses which can scale to continuous MDPs. Results suggest that PG-BROIL can produce a family of behaviors ranging from risk-neutral to risk-averse and outperforms state-of-the-art imitation learning algorithms when learning from ambiguous demonstrations by hedging against uncertainty, rather than seeking to uniquely identify the demonstrator's reward function.

Tue 20 July 18:45 - 18:50 PDT

Reinforcement Learning of Implicit and Explicit Control Flow Instructions

Ethan Brooks · Janarthanan Rajendran · Richard Lewis · Satinder Singh

Learning to flexibly follow task instructions in dynamic environments poses interesting challenges for reinforcement learning agents. We focus here on the problem of learning control flow that deviates from a strict step-by-step execution of instructions—that is, control flow that may skip forward over parts of the instructions or return backward to previously completed or skipped steps. Demand for such flexible control arises in two fundamental ways: explicitly when control is specified in the instructions themselves (such as conditional branching and looping) and implicitly when stochastic environment dynamics require re-completion of instructions whose effects have been perturbed, or opportunistic skipping of instructions whose effects are already present. We formulate an attention-based architecture that meets these challenges by learning, from task reward only, to flexibly attend to and condition behavior on an internal encoding of the instructions. We test the architecture's ability to learn both explicit and implicit control in two illustrative domains---one inspired by Minecraft and the other by StarCraft---and show that the architecture exhibits zero-shot generalization to novel instructions of length greater than those in a training set, at a performance level unmatched by three baseline recurrent architectures and one ablation architecture.

Tue 20 July 18:50 - 18:55 PDT