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Harshit Sikchi, Rohan Chitnis, Ahmed Touati, Alborz Geramifard, Amy Zhang, Scott Niekum

Offline Goal-Conditioned Reinforcement Learning (GCRL) is tasked with learning to achieve multiple goals in an environment purely from offline datasets using sparse reward functions. Offline GCRL is pivotal for developing generalist agents capable of leveraging pre-existing datasets to learn diverse and reusable skills without hand-engineering reward functions. However, contemporary approaches to GCRL based on supervised learning and contrastive learning are often suboptimal in the offline setting. An alternative perspective on GCRL optimizes for occupancy matching, but necessitates learning a discriminator, which subsequently serves as a pseudo-reward for downstream RL. Inaccuracies in the learned discriminator can cascade, negatively influencing the resulting policy. We present a novel approach to GCRL under a new lens of mixture-distribution matching, leading to our discriminator-free method: SMORe. The key insight is combining the occupancy matching perspective of GCRL with a convex dual formulation to derive a learning objective that can better leverage suboptimal offline data. SMORe learns scores or unnormalized densities representing the importance of taking an action at a state for reaching a particular goal. SMORe is principled and our extensive experiments on the fully offline GCRL benchmark composed of robot manipulation and locomotion tasks, including high-dimensional observations, show that SMORe can outperform state-of-the-art baselines by a significant margin.

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Ted Moskovitz, Samo Hromadka, Ahmed Touati, Diana Borsa, Maneesh Sahani

A common setting in multitask reinforcement learning (RL) demands that an agent rapidly adapt to various stationary reward functions randomly sampled from a fixed distribution. In such situations, the successor representation (SR) is a popular framework which supports rapid policy evaluation by decoupling a policy's expected discounted, cumulative state occupancies from a specific reward function. However, in the natural world, sequential tasks are rarely independent, and instead reflect shifting priorities based on the availability and subjective perception of rewarding stimuli. Reflecting this disjunction, in this paper we study the phenomenon of diminishing marginal utility and introduce a novel state representation, the $\lambda$ representation ($\lambda$R) which, surprisingly, is required for policy evaluation in this setting and which generalizes the SR as well as several other state representations from the literature. We establish the $\lambda$R's formal properties and examine its normative advantages in the context of machine learning, as well as its usefulness for studying natural behaviors, particularly foraging.

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Andrea Tirinzoni, Matteo Papini, Ahmed Touati, Alessandro Lazaric, Matteo Pirotta

We study the problem of representation learning in stochastic contextual linear bandits. While the primary concern in this domain is usually to find realizable representations (i.e., those that allow predicting the reward function at any context-action pair exactly), it has been recently shown that representations with certain spectral properties (called HLS) may be more effective for the exploration-exploitation task, enabling LinUCB to achieve constant (i.e., horizon-independent) regret. In this paper, we propose BanditSRL, a representation learning algorithm that combines a novel constrained optimization problem to learn a realizable representation with good spectral properties with a generalized likelihood ratio test to exploit the recovered representation and avoid excessive exploration. We prove that BanditSRL can be paired with any no-regret algorithm and achieve constant regret whenever an HLS representation is available. Furthermore, BanditSRL can be easily combined with deep neural networks and we show how regularizing towards HLS representations is beneficial in standard benchmarks.

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Ahmed Touati, Jérémy Rapin, Yann Ollivier

A zero-shot RL agent is an agent that can solve any RL task in a given environment, instantly with no additional planning or learning, after an initial reward-free learning phase. This marks a shift from the reward-centric RL paradigm towards "controllable" agents that can follow arbitrary instructions in an environment. Current RL agents can solve families of related tasks at best, or require planning anew for each task. Strategies for approximate zero-shot RL ave been suggested using successor features (SFs) [BBQ+ 18] or forward-backward (FB) representations [TO21], but testing has been limited. After clarifying the relationships between these schemes, we introduce improved losses and new SF models, and test the viability of zero-shot RL schemes systematically on tasks from the Unsupervised RL benchmark [LYL+21]. To disentangle universal representation learning from exploration, we work in an offline setting and repeat the tests on several existing replay buffers. SFs appear to suffer from the choice of the elementary state features. SFs with Laplacian eigenfunctions do well, while SFs based on auto-encoders, inverse curiosity, transition models, low-rank transition matrix, contrastive learning, or diversity (APS), perform unconsistently. In contrast, FB representations jointly learn the elementary and successor features from a single, principled criterion. They perform best and consistently across the board, reaching 85% of supervised RL performance with a good replay buffer, in a zero-shot manner.

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Ahmed Touati, Yann Ollivier

We introduce the forward-backward (FB) representation of the dynamics of a reward-free Markov decision process. It provides explicit near-optimal policies for any reward specified a posteriori. During an unsupervised phase, we use reward-free interactions with the environment to learn two representations via off-the-shelf deep learning methods and temporal difference (TD) learning. In the test phase, a reward representation is estimated either from observations or an explicit reward description (e.g., a target state). The optimal policy for that reward is directly obtained from these representations, with no planning. The unsupervised FB loss is well-principled: if training is perfect, the policies obtained are provably optimal for any reward function. With imperfect training, the sub-optimality is proportional to the unsupervised approximation error. The FB representation learns long-range relationships between states and actions, via a predictive occupancy map, without having to synthesize states as in model-based approaches. This is a step towards learning controllable agents in arbitrary black-box stochastic environments. This approach compares well to goal-oriented RL algorithms on discrete and continuous mazes, pixel-based MsPacman, and the FetchReach virtual robot arm. We also illustrate how the agent can immediately adapt to new tasks beyond goal-oriented RL.

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Ahmed Touati, Pascal Vincent

We study episodic reinforcement learning in non-stationary linear (a.k.a. low-rank) Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), i.e, both the reward and transition kernel are linear with respect to a given feature map and are allowed to evolve either slowly or abruptly over time. For this problem setting, we propose OPT-WLSVI an optimistic model-free algorithm based on weighted least squares value iteration which uses exponential weights to smoothly forget data that are far in the past. We show that our algorithm, when competing against the best policy at each time, achieves a regret that is upped bounded by $\widetilde{\mathcal{O}}(d^{7/6}H^2 \Delta^{1/3} K^{2/3})$ where $d$ is the dimension of the feature space, $H$ is the planning horizon, $K$ is the number of episodes and $\Delta$ is a suitable measure of non-stationarity of the MDP. This is the first regret bound for non-stationary reinforcement learning with linear function approximation.

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Sai Krishna Gottipati, Yashaswi Pathak, Rohan Nuttall, Sahir, Raviteja Chunduru, Ahmed Touati, Sriram Ganapathi Subramanian, Matthew E. Taylor, Sarath Chandar

Reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms typically deal with maximizing the expected cumulative return (discounted or undiscounted, finite or infinite horizon). However, several crucial applications in the real world, such as drug discovery, do not fit within this framework because an RL agent only needs to identify states (molecules) that achieve the highest reward within a trajectory and does not need to optimize for the expected cumulative return. In this work, we formulate an objective function to maximize the expected maximum reward along a trajectory, derive a novel functional form of the Bellman equation, introduce the corresponding Bellman operators, and provide a proof of convergence. Using this formulation, we achieve state-of-the-art results on the task of molecule generation that mimics a real-world drug discovery pipeline.

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Ahmed Touati, Pascal Vincent

The \textit{Smoothed Bellman Error Embedding} algorithm~\citep{dai2018sbeed}, known as SBEED, was proposed as a provably convergent reinforcement learning algorithm with general nonlinear function approximation. It has been successfully implemented with neural networks and achieved strong empirical results. In this work, we study the theoretical behavior of SBEED in batch-mode reinforcement learning. We prove a near-optimal performance guarantee that depends on the representation power of the used function classes and a tight notion of the distribution shift. Our results improve upon prior guarantees for SBEED in ~\citet{dai2018sbeed} in terms of the dependence on the planning horizon and on the sample size. Our analysis builds on the recent work of ~\citet{Xie2020} which studies a related algorithm MSBO, that could be interpreted as a \textit{non-smooth} counterpart of SBEED.

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Joshua Romoff, Peter Henderson, David Kanaa, Emmanuel Bengio, Ahmed Touati, Pierre-Luc Bacon, Joelle Pineau

We investigate whether Jacobi preconditioning, accounting for the bootstrap term in temporal difference (TD) learning, can help boost performance of adaptive optimizers. Our method, TDprop, computes a per parameter learning rate based on the diagonal preconditioning of the TD update rule. We show how this can be used in both $n$-step returns and TD($\lambda$). Our theoretical findings demonstrate that including this additional preconditioning information is, surprisingly, comparable to normal semi-gradient TD if the optimal learning rate is found for both via a hyperparameter search. In Deep RL experiments using Expected SARSA, TDprop meets or exceeds the performance of Adam in all tested games under near-optimal learning rates, but a well-tuned SGD can yield similar improvements -- matching our theory. Our findings suggest that Jacobi preconditioning may improve upon typical adaptive optimization methods in Deep RL, but despite incorporating additional information from the TD bootstrap term, may not always be better than SGD.

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Ahmed Touati, Amy Zhang, Joelle Pineau, Pascal Vincent

Trust Region Policy Optimization (TRPO) and Proximal Policy Optimization (PPO) are among the most successful policy gradient approaches in deep reinforcement learning (RL). While these methods achieve state-of-the-art performance across a wide range of challenging tasks, there is room for improvement in the stabilization of the policy learning and how the off-policy data are used. In this paper we revisit the theoretical foundations of these algorithms and propose a new algorithm which stabilizes the policy improvement through a proximity term that constrains the discounted state-action visitation distribution induced by consecutive policies to be close to one another. This proximity term, expressed in terms of the divergence between the visitation distributions, is learned in an off-policy and adversarial manner. We empirically show that our proposed method can have a beneficial effect on stability and improve final performance in benchmark high-dimensional control tasks.

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