Reinforcement Learning/Optimization

Room 309

Moderator: Konstantinos D. Polyzos


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Thu 21 July 12:30 - 12:50 PDT

From Dirichlet to Rubin: Optimistic Exploration in RL without Bonuses

Daniil Tiapkin · Denis Belomestny · Eric Moulines · Alexey Naumov · Sergey Samsonov · Yunhao Tang · Michal Valko · Pierre Menard

We propose the Bayes-UCBVI algorithm for reinforcement learning in tabular, stage-dependent, episodic Markov decision process: a natural extension of the Bayes-UCB algorithm by Kaufmann et al. 2012 for multi-armed bandits. Our method uses the quantile of a Q-value function posterior as upper confidence bound on the optimal Q-value function. For Bayes-UCBVI, we prove a regret bound of order $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(\sqrt{H^3SAT})$ where $H$ is the length of one episode, $S$ is the number of states, $A$ the number of actions, $T$ the number of episodes, that matches the lower-bound of $\Omega(\sqrt{H^3SAT})$ up to poly-$\log$ terms in $H,S,A,T$ for a large enough $T$. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first algorithm that obtains an optimal dependence on the horizon $H$ (and $S$) \textit{without the need of an involved Bernstein-like bonus or noise.} Crucial to our analysis is a new fine-grained anti-concentration bound for a weighted Dirichlet sum that can be of independent interest. We then explain how Bayes-UCBVI can be easily extended beyond the tabular setting, exhibiting a strong link between our algorithm and Bayesian bootstrap (Rubin,1981).

Thu 21 July 12:50 - 12:55 PDT

Why Should I Trust You, Bellman? The Bellman Error is a Poor Replacement for Value Error

Scott Fujimoto · David Meger · Doina Precup · Ofir Nachum · Shixiang Gu

In this work, we study the use of the Bellman equation as a surrogate objective for value prediction accuracy. While the Bellman equation is uniquely solved by the true value function over all state-action pairs, we find that the Bellman error (the difference between both sides of the equation) is a poor proxy for the accuracy of the value function. In particular, we show that (1) due to cancellations from both sides of the Bellman equation, the magnitude of the Bellman error is only weakly related to the distance to the true value function, even when considering all state-action pairs, and (2) in the finite data regime, the Bellman equation can be satisfied exactly by infinitely many suboptimal solutions. This means that the Bellman error can be minimized without improving the accuracy of the value function. We demonstrate these phenomena through a series of propositions, illustrative toy examples, and empirical analysis in standard benchmark domains.

Thu 21 July 12:55 - 13:00 PDT

EqR: Equivariant Representations for Data-Efficient Reinforcement Learning

Arnab Kumar Mondal · Vineet Jain · Kaleem Siddiqi · Siamak Ravanbakhsh

We study a variety of notions of equivariance as an inductive bias in Reinforcement Learning (RL). In particular, we propose new mechanisms for learning representations that are equivariant to both the agent’s action, as well as symmetry transformations of the state-action pairs. Whereas prior work on exploiting symmetries in deep RL can only incorporate predefined linear transformations, our approach allows non-linear symmetry transformations of state-action pairs to be learned from the data. This is achieved through 1) equivariant Lie algebraic parameterization of state and action encodings, 2) equivariant latent transition models, and 3) the incorporation of symmetry-based losses. We demonstrate the advantages of our method, which we call Equivariant representations for RL (EqR), for Atari games in a data-efficient setting limited to 100K steps of interactions with the environment.

Thu 21 July 13:00 - 13:05 PDT

Imitation Learning by Estimating Expertise of Demonstrators

Mark Beliaev · Andy Shih · Stefano Ermon · Dorsa Sadigh · Ramtin Pedarsani

Many existing imitation learning datasets are collected from multiple demonstrators, each with different expertise at different parts of the environment. Yet, standard imitation learning algorithms typically treat all demonstrators as homogeneous, regardless of their expertise, absorbing the weaknesses of any suboptimal demonstrators. In this work, we show that unsupervised learning over demonstrator expertise can lead to a consistent boost in the performance of imitation learning algorithms. We develop and optimize a joint model over a learned policy and expertise levels of the demonstrators. This enables our model to learn from the optimal behavior and filter out the suboptimal behavior of each demonstrator. Our model learns a single policy that can outperform even the best demonstrator, and can be used to estimate the expertise of any demonstrator at any state. We illustrate our findings on real-robotic continuous control tasks from Robomimic and discrete environments such as MiniGrid and chess, out-performing competing methods in 21 out of 23 settings, with an average of 7% and up to 60% improvement in terms of the final reward.

Thu 21 July 13:05 - 13:10 PDT

Cliff Diving: Exploring Reward Surfaces in Reinforcement Learning Environments

Ryan Sullivan · Jordan Terry · Benjamin Black · John P Dickerson

Visualizing optimization landscapes has resulted in many fundamental insights in numeric optimization, specifically regarding novel improvements to optimization techniques. However, visualizations of the objective that reinforcement learning optimizes (the "reward surface") have only ever been generated for a small number of narrow contexts. This work presents reward surfaces and related visualizations of 27 of the most widely used reinforcement learning environments in Gym for the first time. We also explore reward surfaces in the policy gradient direction and show for the first time that many popular reinforcement learning environments have frequent "cliffs" (sudden large drops in expected reward). We demonstrate that A2C often "dives off" these cliffs into low reward regions of the parameter space while PPO avoids them, confirming a popular intuition for PPO's improved performance over previous methods. We additionally introduce a highly extensible library that allows researchers to easily generate these visualizations in the future. Our findings provide new intuition to explain the successes and failures of modern RL methods, and our visualizations concretely characterize several failure modes of reinforcement learning agents in novel ways.

Thu 21 July 13:10 - 13:15 PDT

Off-Policy Evaluation for Large Action Spaces via Embeddings

Yuta Saito · Thorsten Joachims

Off-policy evaluation (OPE) in contextual bandits has seen rapid adoption in real-world systems, since it enables offline evaluation of new policies using only historic log data. Unfortunately, when the number of actions is large, existing OPE estimators -- most of which are based on inverse propensity score weighting -- degrade severely and can suffer from extreme bias and variance. This foils the use of OPE in many applications from recommender systems to language models. To overcome this issue, we propose a new OPE estimator that leverages marginalized importance weights when action embeddings provide structure in the action space. We characterize the bias, variance, and mean squared error of the proposed estimator and analyze the conditions under which the action embedding provides statistical benefits over conventional estimators. In addition to the theoretical analysis, we find that the empirical performance improvement can be substantial, enabling reliable OPE even when existing estimators collapse due to a large number of actions.

Thu 21 July 13:15 - 13:35 PDT

Online Decision Transformer

Qinqing Zheng · Amy Zhang · Aditya Grover

Recent work has shown that offline reinforcement learning (RL) can be formulated as a sequence modeling problem~\cite{chen2021decision, janner2021offline} and solved via approaches similar to large-scale language modeling. However, any practical instantiation of RL also involves an online component, where policies pretrained on passive offline datasets are finetuned via task-specific interactions with the environment. We propose Online Decision Transformers (ODT), an RL algorithm based on sequence modeling that blends offline pretraining with online finetuning in a unified framework. Our framework uses sequence-level entropy regularizers in conjunction with autoregressive modeling objectives for sample-efficient exploration and finetuning. Empirically, we show that ODT is competitive with the state-of-the-art in absolute performance on the D4RL benchmark but shows much more significant gains during the finetuning procedure.

Thu 21 July 13:35 - 13:40 PDT

Learning-based Optimisation of Particle Accelerators Under Partial Observability Without Real-World Training

Jan Kaiser · Oliver Stein · Annika Eichler

In recent work, it has been shown that reinforcement learning (RL) is capable of solving a variety of problems at sometimes super-human performance levels. But despite continued advances in the field, applying RL to complex real-world control and optimisation problems has proven difficult. In this contribution, we demonstrate how to successfully apply RL to the optimisation of a highly complex real-world machine – specifically a linear particle accelerator – in an only partially observable setting and without requiring training on the real machine. Our method outperforms conventional optimisation algorithms in both the achieved result and time taken as well as already achieving close to human-level performance. We expect that such automation of machine optimisation will push the limits of operability, increase machine availability and lead to a paradigm shift in how such machines are operated, ultimately facilitating advances in a variety of fields, such as science and medicine among many others.

Thu 21 July 13:40 - 13:45 PDT

How to Leverage Unlabeled Data in Offline Reinforcement Learning

Tianhe (Kevin) Yu · Aviral Kumar · Yevgen Chebotar · Karol Hausman · Chelsea Finn · Sergey Levine

Offline reinforcement learning (RL) can learn control policies from static datasets but, like standard RL methods, it requires reward annotations for every transition. In many cases, labeling large datasets with rewards may be costly, especially if those rewards must be provided by human labelers, while collecting diverse unlabeled data might be comparatively inexpensive. How can we best leverage such unlabeled data in offline RL? One natural solution is to learn a reward function from the labeled data and use it to label the unlabeled data. In this paper, we find that, perhaps surprisingly, a much simpler method that simply applies zero rewards to unlabeled data leads to effective data sharing both in theory and in practice, without learning any reward model at all. While this approach might seem strange (and incorrect) at first, we provide extensive theoretical and empirical analysis that illustrates how it trades off reward bias, sample complexity and distributional shift, often leading to good results. We characterize conditions under which this simple strategy is effective, and further show that extending it with a simple reweighting approach can further alleviate the bias introduced by using incorrect reward labels. Our empirical evaluation confirms these findings in simulated robotic locomotion, navigation, and manipulation settings.

Thu 21 July 13:45 - 13:50 PDT

Bisimulation Makes Analogies in Goal-Conditioned Reinforcement Learning

Philippe Hansen-Estruch · Amy Zhang · Ashvin Nair · Patrick Yin · Sergey Levine

Building generalizable goal-conditioned agents from rich observations is a key to reinforcement learning (RL) solving real world problems. Traditionally in goal-conditioned RL, an agent is provided with the exact goal they intend to reach. However, it is often not realistic to know the configuration of the goal before performing a task. A more scalable framework would allow us to provide the agent with an example of an analogous task, and have the agent then infer what the goal should be for its current state. We propose a new form of state abstraction called goal-conditioned bisimulation that captures functional equivariance, allowing for the reuse of skills to achieve new goals. We learn this representation using a metric form of this abstraction, and show its ability to generalize to new goals in real world manipulation tasks. Further, we prove that this learned representation is sufficient not only for goal-conditioned tasks, but is amenable to any downstream task described by a state-only reward function.

Thu 21 July 13:50 - 13:55 PDT

Lightweight Projective Derivative Codes for Compressed Asynchronous Gradient Descent

Pedro Soto · Ilia Ilmer · Haibin Guan · Jun Li

Coded distributed computation has become common practice for performing gradient descent on large datasets to mitigate stragglers and other faults. This paper proposes a novel algorithm that encodes the partial derivatives themselves and furthermore optimizes the codes by performing lossy compression on the derivative codewords by maximizing the information contained in the codewords while minimizing the information between the codewords. The utility of this application of coding theory is a geometrical consequence of the observed fact in optimization research that noise is tolerable, sometimes even helpful, in gradient descent based learning algorithms since it helps avoid overfitting and local minima. This stands in contrast with much current conventional work on distributed coded computation which focuses on recovering all of the data from the workers. A second further contribution is that the low-weight nature of the coding scheme allows for asynchronous gradient updates since the code can be iteratively decoded; i.e., a worker's task can immediately be updated into the larger gradient. The directional derivative is always a linear function of the direction vectors; thus, our framework is robust since it can apply linear coding techniques to general machine learning frameworks such as deep neural networks.

Thu 21 July 13:55 - 14:00 PDT

Compressed-VFL: Communication-Efficient Learning with Vertically Partitioned Data

Timothy Castiglia · Anirban Das · Shiqiang Wang · Stacy Patterson

We propose Compressed Vertical Federated Learning (C-VFL) for communication-efficient training on vertically partitioned data. In C-VFL, a server and multiple parties collaboratively train a model on their respective features utilizing several local iterations and sharing compressed intermediate results periodically. Our work provides the first theoretical analysis of the effect message compression has on distributed training over vertically partitioned data. We prove convergence of non-convex objectives at a rate of $O(\frac{1}{\sqrt{T}})$ when the compression error is bounded over the course of training. We provide specific requirements for convergence with common compression techniques, such as quantization and top-$k$ sparsification. Finally, we experimentally show compression can reduce communication by over $90\%$ without a significant decrease in accuracy over VFL without compression.