Reinforcement Learning 8

Moderator: Zhaoran Wang


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Tue 20 July 19:00 - 19:20 PDT
Inverse Decision Modeling: Learning Interpretable Representations of Behavior

Daniel Jarrett · Alihan Hüyük · Mihaela van der Schaar

Decision analysis deals with modeling and enhancing decision processes. A principal challenge in improving behavior is in obtaining a transparent description of existing behavior in the first place. In this paper, we develop an expressive, unifying perspective on inverse decision modeling: a framework for learning parameterized representations of sequential decision behavior. First, we formalize the forward problem (as a normative standard), subsuming common classes of control behavior. Second, we use this to formalize the inverse problem (as a descriptive model), generalizing existing work on imitation/reward learning---while opening up a much broader class of research problems in behavior representation. Finally, we instantiate this approach with an example (inverse bounded rational control), illustrating how this structure enables learning (interpretable) representations of (bounded) rationality---while naturally capturing intuitive notions of suboptimal actions, biased beliefs, and imperfect knowledge of environments.

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Tue 20 July 19:20 - 19:25 PDT
On Proximal Policy Optimization's Heavy-tailed Gradients

Saurabh Garg · Joshua Zhanson · Emilio Parisotto · Adarsh Prasad · Zico Kolter · Zachary Lipton · Sivaraman Balakrishnan · Ruslan Salakhutdinov · Pradeep Ravikumar

Modern policy gradient algorithms such as Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO) rely on an arsenal of heuristics, including loss clipping and gradient clipping, to ensure successful learning. These heuristics are reminiscent of techniques from robust statistics, commonly used for estimation in outlier-rich ("heavy-tailed") regimes. In this paper, we present a detailed empirical study to characterize the heavy-tailed nature of the gradients of the PPO surrogate reward function. We demonstrate that the gradients, especially for the actor network, exhibit pronounced heavy-tailedness and that it increases as the agent's policy diverges from the behavioral policy (i.e., as the agent goes further off policy). Further examination implicates the likelihood ratios and advantages in the surrogate reward as the main sources of the observed heavy-tailedness. We then highlight issues arising due to the heavy-tailed nature of the gradients. In this light, we study the effects of the standard PPO clipping heuristics, demonstrating that these tricks primarily serve to offset heavy-tailedness in gradients. Thus motivated, we propose incorporating GMOM, a high-dimensional robust estimator, into PPO as a substitute for three clipping tricks. Despite requiring less hyperparameter tuning, our method matches the performance of PPO (with all heuristics enabled) on a battery of MuJoCo continuous control tasks.

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Tue 20 July 19:25 - 19:30 PDT
Policy Information Capacity: Information-Theoretic Measure for Task Complexity in Deep Reinforcement Learning

Hiroki Furuta · Tatsuya Matsushima · Tadashi Kozuno · Yutaka Matsuo · Sergey Levine · Ofir Nachum · Shixiang Gu

Progress in deep reinforcement learning (RL) research is largely enabled by benchmark task environments. However, analyzing the nature of those environments is often overlooked. In particular, we still do not have agreeable ways to measure the difficulty or solvability of a task, given that each has fundamentally different actions, observations, dynamics, rewards, and can be tackled with diverse RL algorithms. In this work, we propose policy information capacity (PIC) -- the mutual information between policy parameters and episodic return -- and policy-optimal information capacity (POIC) -- between policy parameters and episodic optimality -- as two environment-agnostic, algorithm-agnostic quantitative metrics for task difficulty. Evaluating our metrics across toy environments as well as continuous control benchmark tasks from OpenAI Gym and DeepMind Control Suite, we empirically demonstrate that these information-theoretic metrics have higher correlations with normalized task solvability scores than a variety of alternatives. Lastly, we show that these metrics can also be used for fast and compute-efficient optimizations of key design parameters such as reward shaping, policy architectures, and MDP properties for better solvability by RL algorithms without ever running full RL experiments.

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Tue 20 July 19:30 - 19:35 PDT
Variational Empowerment as Representation Learning for Goal-Conditioned Reinforcement Learning

Jongwook Choi · Archit Sharma · Honglak Lee · Sergey Levine · Shixiang Gu

Learning to reach goal states and learning diverse skills through mutual information maximization have been proposed as principled frameworks for unsupervised reinforcement learning, allowing agents to acquire broadly applicable multi-task policies with minimal reward engineering. In this paper, we discuss how these two approaches — goal-conditioned RL (GCRL) and MI-based RL — can be generalized into a single family of methods, interpreting mutual information maximization and variational empowerment as representation learning methods that acquire function-ally aware state representations for goal reaching.Starting from a simple observation that the standard GCRL is encapsulated by the optimization objective of variational empowerment, we can derive novel variants of GCRL and variational empowerment under a single, unified optimization objective, such as adaptive-variance GCRL and linear-mapping GCRL, and study the characteristics of representation learning each variant provides. Furthermore, through the lens of GCRL, we show that adapting powerful techniques fromGCRL such as goal relabeling into the variationalMI context as well as proper regularization on the variational posterior provides substantial gains in algorithm performance, and propose a novel evaluation metric named latent goal reaching (LGR)as an objective measure for evaluating empowerment algorithms akin to goal-based RL. Through principled mathematical derivations and careful experimental validations, our work lays a novel foundation from which representation learning can be evaluated and analyzed in goal-based RL

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Tue 20 July 19:35 - 19:40 PDT
Is Pessimism Provably Efficient for Offline RL?

Ying Jin · Zhuoran Yang · Zhaoran Wang

We study offline reinforcement learning (RL), which aims to learn an optimal policy based on a dataset collected a priori. Due to the lack of further interactions with the environment, offline RL suffers from the insufficient coverage of the dataset, which eludes most existing theoretical analysis. In this paper, we propose a pessimistic variant of the value iteration algorithm (PEVI), which incorporates an uncertainty quantifier as the penalty function. Such a penalty function simply flips the sign of the bonus function for promoting exploration in online RL, which makes it easily implementable and compatible with general function approximators.

Without assuming the sufficient coverage of the dataset, we establish a data-dependent upper bound on the suboptimality of PEVI for general Markov decision processes (MDPs). When specialized to linear MDPs, it matches the information-theoretic lower bound up to multiplicative factors of the dimension and horizon. In other words, pessimism is not only provably efficient but also minimax optimal. In particular, given the dataset, the learned policy serves as the best effort'' among all policies, as no other policies can do better. Our theoretical analysis identifies the critical role of pessimism in eliminating a notion of spurious correlation, which emerges from theirrelevant'' trajectories that are less covered by the dataset and not informative for the optimal policy.

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Tue 20 July 19:40 - 19:45 PDT
Beyond Variance Reduction: Understanding the True Impact of Baselines on Policy Optimization

Wesley Chung · Valentin Thomas · Marlos C. Machado · Nicolas Le Roux

Bandit and reinforcement learning (RL) problems can often be framed as optimization problems where the goal is to maximize average performance while having access only to stochastic estimates of the true gradient. Traditionally, stochastic optimization theory predicts that learning dynamics are governed by the curvature of the loss function and the noise of the gradient estimates. In this paper we demonstrate that the standard view is too limited for bandit and RL problems. To allow our analysis to be interpreted in light of multi-step MDPs, we focus on techniques derived from stochastic optimization principles~(e.g., natural policy gradient and EXP3) and we show that some standard assumptions from optimization theory are violated in these problems. We present theoretical results showing that, at least for bandit problems, curvature and noise are not sufficient to explain the learning dynamics and that seemingly innocuous choices like the baseline can determine whether an algorithm converges. These theoretical findings match our empirical evaluation, which we extend to multi-state MDPs.

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Tue 20 July 19:45 - 19:50 PDT
Density Constrained Reinforcement Learning

Zengyi Qin · Yuxiao Chen · Chuchu Fan

We study constrained reinforcement learning (CRL) from a novel perspective by setting constraints directly on state density functions, rather than the value functions considered by previous works. State density has a clear physical and mathematical interpretation, and is able to express a wide variety of constraints such as resource limits and safety requirements. Density constraints can also avoid the time-consuming process of designing and tuning cost functions required by value function-based constraints to encode system specifications. We leverage the duality between density functions and Q functions to develop an effective algorithm to solve the density constrained RL problem optimally and the constrains are guaranteed to be satisfied. We prove that the proposed algorithm converges to a near-optimal solution with a bounded error even when the policy update is imperfect. We use a set of comprehensive experiments to demonstrate the advantages of our approach over state-of-the-art CRL methods, with a wide range of density constrained tasks as well as standard CRL benchmarks such as Safety-Gym.

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Tue 20 July 19:50 - 19:55 PDT

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