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Investigating the Role of Model-Based Learning in Exploration and Transfer

Jacob C Walker · Eszter VĂ©rtes · Yazhe Li · Gabriel Dulac-Arnold · Ankesh Anand · Theophane Weber · Jessica Hamrick

Exhibit Hall 1 #204


State of the art reinforcement learning has enabled training agents on tasks of ever increasing complexity. However, the current paradigm tends to favor training agents from scratch on every new task or on collections of tasks with a view towards generalizing to novel task configurations. The former suffers from poor data efficiency while the latter is difficult when test tasks are out-of-distribution. Agents that can effectively transfer their knowledge about the world pose a potential solution to these issues. In this paper, we investigate transfer learning in the context of model-based agents. Specifically, we aim to understand where exactly environment models have an advantage and why. We find that a model-based approach outperforms controlled model-free baselines for transfer learning. Through ablations, we show that both the policy and dynamics model learnt through exploration matter for successful transfer. We demonstrate our results across three domains which vary in their requirements for transfer: in-distribution procedural (Crafter), in-distribution identical (RoboDesk), and out-of-distribution (Meta-World). Our results show that intrinsic exploration combined with environment models present a viable direction towards agents that are self-supervised and able to generalize to novel reward functions.

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