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Reinforcement Learning: Deep/Batch/Offline

Room 309

Moderator: Haozhu Wang

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Tue 19 July 10:30 - 10:50 PDT

Align-RUDDER: Learning From Few Demonstrations by Reward Redistribution

Vihang Patil · Markus Hofmarcher · Marius-Constantin Dinu · Matthias Dorfer · Patrick Blies · Johannes Brandstetter · Jose A. Arjona-Medina · Sepp Hochreiter

Reinforcement learning algorithms require many samples when solving complex hierarchical tasks with sparse and delayed rewards. For such complex tasks, the recently proposed RUDDER uses reward redistribution to leverage steps in the Q-function that are associated with accomplishing sub-tasks. However, often only few episodes with high rewards are available as demonstrations since current exploration strategies cannot discover them in reasonable time. In this work, we introduce Align-RUDDER, which utilizes a profile model for reward redistribution that is obtained from multiple sequence alignment of demonstrations. Consequently, Align-RUDDER employs reward redistribution effectively and, thereby, drastically improves learning on few demonstrations. Align-RUDDER outperforms competitors on complex artificial tasks with delayed rewards and few demonstrations. On the Minecraft ObtainDiamond task, Align-RUDDER is able to mine a diamond, though not frequently. Code is available at

Tue 19 July 10:50 - 10:55 PDT

AnyMorph: Learning Transferable Polices By Inferring Agent Morphology

Brandon Trabucco · mariano phielipp · Glen Berseth

The prototypical approach to reinforcement learning involves training policies tailored to a particular agent from scratch for every new morphology.Recent work aims to eliminate the re-training of policies by investigating whether a morphology-agnostic policy, trained on a diverse set of agents with similar task objectives, can be transferred to new agents with unseen morphologies without re-training. This is a challenging problem that required previous approaches to use hand-designed descriptions of the new agent's morphology. Instead of hand-designing this description, we propose a data-driven method that learns a representation of morphology directly from the reinforcement learning objective.Ours is the first reinforcement learning algorithm that can train a policy to generalize tonew agent morphologies without requiring a description of the agent's morphology in advance. We evaluate our approach on the standard benchmark for agent-agnostic control, and improve over the current state of the art in zero-shot generalization to new agents. Importantly, our method attains good performance without an explicit description of morphology.

Tue 19 July 10:55 - 11:00 PDT

DreamerPro: Reconstruction-Free Model-Based Reinforcement Learning with Prototypical Representations

Fei Deng · Ingook Jang · Sungjin Ahn

Reconstruction-based Model-Based Reinforcement Learning (MBRL) agents, such as Dreamer, often fail to discard task-irrelevant visual distractions that are prevalent in natural scenes. In this paper, we propose a reconstruction-free MBRL agent, called DreamerPro, that can enhance robustness to distractions. Motivated by the recent success of prototypical representations, a non-contrastive self-supervised learning approach in computer vision, DreamerPro combines Dreamer with prototypes. In order for the prototypes to benefit temporal dynamics learning in MBRL, we propose to additionally learn the prototypes from the recurrent states of the world model, thereby distilling temporal structures from past observations and actions into the prototypes. Experiments on the DeepMind Control suite show that DreamerPro achieves better overall performance than state-of-the-art contrastive MBRL agents when there are complex background distractions, and maintains similar performance as Dreamer in standard tasks where contrastive MBRL agents can perform much worse.

Tue 19 July 11:00 - 11:05 PDT

Stabilizing Off-Policy Deep Reinforcement Learning from Pixels

Edoardo Cetin · Philip Ball · Stephen Roberts · Oya Celiktutan

Off-policy reinforcement learning (RL) from pixel observations is notoriously unstable. As a result, many successful algorithms must combine different domain-specific practices and auxiliary losses to learn meaningful behaviors in complex environments. In this work, we provide novel analysis demonstrating that these instabilities arise from performing temporal-difference learning with a convolutional encoder and low-magnitude rewards. We show that this new visual deadly triad causes unstable training and premature convergence to degenerate solutions, a phenomenon we name catastrophic self-overfitting. Based on our analysis, we propose A-LIX, a method providing adaptive regularization to the encoder's gradients that explicitly prevents the occurrence of catastrophic self-overfitting using a dual objective. By applying A-LIX, we significantly outperform the prior state-of-the-art on the DeepMind Control and Atari benchmarks without any data augmentation or auxiliary losses.

Tue 19 July 11:05 - 11:10 PDT

Influence-Augmented Local Simulators: a Scalable Solution for Fast Deep RL in Large Networked Systems

Miguel Suau · Jinke He · Matthijs T. J. Spaan · Frans Oliehoek

Learning effective policies for real-world problems is still an open challenge for the field of reinforcement learning (RL). The main limitation being the amount of data needed and the pace at which that data can be obtained. In this paper, we study how to build lightweight simulators of complicated systems that can run sufficiently fast for deep RL to be applicable. We focus on domains where agents interact with a reduced portion of a larger environment while still being affected by the global dynamics. Our method combines the use of local simulators with learned models that mimic the influence of the global system. The experiments reveal that incorporating this idea into the deep RL workflow can considerably accelerate the training process and presents several opportunities for the future.

Tue 19 July 11:10 - 11:15 PDT

CtrlFormer: Learning Transferable State Representation for Visual Control via Transformer

Yao Mu · Shoufa Chen · Mingyu Ding · Jianyu Chen · Runjian Chen · Ping Luo

Transformer has achieved great successes in learning vision and language representation, which is general across various downstream tasks. In visual control, learning transferable state representation that can transfer between different control tasks is important to reduce the training sample size. However, porting Transformer to sample-efficient visual control remains a challenging and unsolved problem.To this end, we propose a novel Control Transformer (CtrlFormer), possessing many appealing benefits that prior arts do not have. Firstly, CtrlFormer jointly learns self-attention mechanisms between visual tokens and policy tokens among different control tasks, where multitask representation can be learned and transferred without catastrophic forgetting. Secondly, we carefully design a contrastive reinforcement learning paradigm to train CtrlFormer, enabling it to achieve high sample efficiency, which is important in control problems. For example, in the DMControl benchmark, unlike recent advanced methods that failed by producing a zero score in the ``Cartpole'' task after transfer learning with 100k samples, CtrlFormer can achieve a state-of-the-art score with only 100k samples while maintaining the performance of previous tasks. The code and models are released in our project homepage.

Tue 19 July 11:15 - 11:35 PDT

Offline RL Policies Should Be Trained to be Adaptive

Dibya Ghosh · Anurag Ajay · Pulkit Agrawal · Sergey Levine

Offline RL algorithms must account for the fact that the dataset they are provided may leave many facets of the environment unknown. The most common way to approach this challenge is to employ pessimistic or conservative methods, which avoid behaviors that are too dissimilar from those in the training dataset. However, relying exclusively on conservatism has drawbacks: performance is sensitive to the exact degree of conservatism, and conservative objectives can recover highly suboptimal policies. In this work, we propose that offline RL methods should instead be adaptive in the presence of uncertainty. We show that acting optimally in offline RL in a Bayesian sense involves solving an implicit POMDP. As a result, optimal policies for offline RL must be adaptive, depending not just on the current state but rather all the transitions seen so far during evaluation. We present a model-free algorithm for approximating this optimal adaptive policy, and demonstrate the efficacy of learning such adaptive policies in offline RL benchmarks.

Tue 19 July 11:35 - 11:40 PDT

Lyapunov Density Models: Constraining Distribution Shift in Learning-Based Control

Katie Kang · Paula Gradu · Jason Choi · Michael Janner · Claire Tomlin · Sergey Levine

Learned models and policies can generalize effectively when evaluated within the distribution of the training data, but can produce unpredictable and erroneous outputs on out-of-distribution inputs. In order to avoid distribution shift when deploying learning-based control algorithms, we seek a mechanism to constrain the agent to states and actions that resemble those that the method was trained on. In control theory, Lyapunov stability and control-invariant sets allow us to make guarantees about controllers that stabilize the system around specific states, while in machine learning, density models allow us to estimate the training data distribution. Can we combine these two concepts, producing learning-based control algorithms that constrain the system to in-distribution states using only in-distribution actions? In this paper, we propose to do this by combining concepts from Lyapunov stability and density estimation, introducing Lyapunov density models: a generalization of control Lyapunov functions and density models that provides guarantees about an agent's ability to stay in-distribution over its entire trajectory.

Tue 19 July 11:40 - 11:45 PDT

PMIC: Improving Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning with Progressive Mutual Information Collaboration

Pengyi Li · Hongyao Tang · Tianpei Yang · Xiaotian Hao · Tong Sang · Yan Zheng · Jianye Hao · Matthew Taylor · Wenyuan Tao · Zhen Wang

Learning to collaborate is critical in Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning (MARL). Previous works promote collaboration by maximizing the correlation of agents’ behaviors, which is typically characterized by Mutual Information (MI) in different forms. However, we reveal sub-optimal collaborative behaviors also emerge with strong correlations, and simply maximizing the MI can, surprisingly, hinder the learning towards better collaboration. To address this issue, we propose a novel MARL framework, called Progressive Mutual Information Collaboration (PMIC), for more effective MI-driven collaboration. PMIC uses a new collaboration criterion measured by the MI between global states and joint actions. Based on this criterion, the key idea of PMIC is maximizing the MI associated with superior collaborative behaviors and minimizing the MI associated with inferior ones. The two MI objectives play complementary roles by facilitating better collaborations while avoiding falling into sub-optimal ones. Experiments on a wide range of MARL benchmarks show the superior performance of PMIC compared with other algorithms.

Tue 19 July 11:45 - 11:50 PDT

Supervised Off-Policy Ranking

Yue Jin · Yue Zhang · Tao Qin · Xudong Zhang · Jian Yuan · Houqiang Li · Tie-Yan Liu

Off-policy evaluation (OPE) is to evaluate a target policy with data generated by other policies. Most previous OPE methods focus on precisely estimating the true performance of a policy. We observe that in many applications, (1) the end goal of OPE is to compare two or multiple candidate policies and choose a good one, which is a much simpler task than precisely evaluating their true performance; and (2) there are usually multiple policies that have been deployed to serve users in real-world systems and thus the true performance of these policies can be known. Inspired by the two observations, in this work, we study a new problem, supervised off-policy ranking (SOPR), which aims to rank a set of target policies based on supervised learning by leveraging off-policy data and policies with known performance. We propose a method to solve SOPR, which learns a policy scoring model by minimizing a ranking loss of the training policies rather than estimating the precise policy performance. The scoring model in our method, a hierarchical Transformer based model, maps a set of state-action pairs to a score, where the state of each pair comes from the off-policy data and the action is taken by a target policy on the state in an offline manner. Extensive experiments on public datasets show that our method outperforms baseline methods in terms of rank correlation, regret value, and stability. Our code is publicly available at GitHub.

Tue 19 July 11:50 - 11:55 PDT

The Primacy Bias in Deep Reinforcement Learning

Evgenii Nikishin · Max Schwarzer · Pierluca D'Oro · Pierre-Luc Bacon · Aaron Courville

This work identifies a common flaw of deep reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms: a tendency to rely on early interactions and ignore useful evidence encountered later. Because of training on progressively growing datasets, deep RL agents incur a risk of overfitting to earlier experiences, negatively affecting the rest of the learning process. Inspired by cognitive science, we refer to this effect as the primacy bias. Through a series of experiments, we dissect the algorithmic aspects of deep RL that exacerbate this bias. We then propose a simple yet generally-applicable mechanism that tackles the primacy bias by periodically resetting a part of the agent. We apply this mechanism to algorithms in both discrete (Atari 100k) and continuous action (DeepMind Control Suite) domains, consistently improving their performance.

Tue 19 July 11:55 - 12:00 PDT

Regularizing a Model-based Policy Stationary Distribution to Stabilize Offline Reinforcement Learning

Shentao Yang · Yihao Feng · Shujian Zhang · Mingyuan Zhou

Offline reinforcement learning (RL) extends the paradigm of classical RL algorithms to purely learning from static datasets, without interacting with the underlying environment during the learning process. A key challenge of offline RL is the instability of policy training, caused by the mismatch between the distribution of the offline data and the undiscounted stationary state-action distribution of the learned policy. To avoid the detrimental impact of distribution mismatch, we regularize the undiscounted stationary distribution of the current policy towards the offline data during the policy optimization process. Further, we train a dynamics model to both implement this regularization and better estimate the stationary distribution of the current policy, reducing the error induced by distribution mismatch. On a wide range of continuous-control offline RL datasets, our method indicates competitive performance, which validates our algorithm. The code is publicly available.