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Anca Dragan

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Zero-Shot Goal-Directed Dialogue via RL on Imagined Conversations

Nov 09, 2023
Joey Hong, Sergey Levine, Anca Dragan

Large language models (LLMs) have emerged as powerful and general solutions to many natural language tasks. However, many of the most important applications of language generation are interactive, where an agent has to talk to a person to reach a desired outcome. For example, a teacher might try to understand their student's current comprehension level to tailor their instruction accordingly, and a travel agent might ask questions of their customer to understand their preferences in order to recommend activities they might enjoy. LLMs trained with supervised fine-tuning or "single-step" RL, as with standard RLHF, might struggle which tasks that require such goal-directed behavior, since they are not trained to optimize for overall conversational outcomes after multiple turns of interaction. In this work, we explore a new method for adapting LLMs with RL for such goal-directed dialogue. Our key insight is that, though LLMs might not effectively solve goal-directed dialogue tasks out of the box, they can provide useful data for solving such tasks by simulating suboptimal but human-like behaviors. Given a textual description of a goal-directed dialogue task, we leverage LLMs to sample diverse synthetic rollouts of hypothetical in-domain human-human interactions. Our algorithm then utilizes this dataset with offline reinforcement learning to train an interactive conversational agent that can optimize goal-directed objectives over multiple turns. In effect, the LLM produces examples of possible interactions, and RL then processes these examples to learn to perform more optimal interactions. Empirically, we show that our proposed approach achieves state-of-the-art performance in various goal-directed dialogue tasks that include teaching and preference elicitation.

* 25 pages, 6 figures 
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Offline RL with Observation Histories: Analyzing and Improving Sample Complexity

Oct 31, 2023
Joey Hong, Anca Dragan, Sergey Levine

Offline reinforcement learning (RL) can in principle synthesize more optimal behavior from a dataset consisting only of suboptimal trials. One way that this can happen is by "stitching" together the best parts of otherwise suboptimal trajectories that overlap on similar states, to create new behaviors where each individual state is in-distribution, but the overall returns are higher. However, in many interesting and complex applications, such as autonomous navigation and dialogue systems, the state is partially observed. Even worse, the state representation is unknown or not easy to define. In such cases, policies and value functions are often conditioned on observation histories instead of states. In these cases, it is not clear if the same kind of "stitching" is feasible at the level of observation histories, since two different trajectories would always have different histories, and thus "similar states" that might lead to effective stitching cannot be leveraged. Theoretically, we show that standard offline RL algorithms conditioned on observation histories suffer from poor sample complexity, in accordance with the above intuition. We then identify sufficient conditions under which offline RL can still be efficient -- intuitively, it needs to learn a compact representation of history comprising only features relevant for action selection. We introduce a bisimulation loss that captures the extent to which this happens, and propose that offline RL can explicitly optimize this loss to aid worst-case sample complexity. Empirically, we show that across a variety of tasks either our proposed loss improves performance, or the value of this loss is already minimized as a consequence of standard offline RL, indicating that it correlates well with good performance.

* 21 pages, 4 figures 
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Managing AI Risks in an Era of Rapid Progress

Oct 26, 2023
Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton, Andrew Yao, Dawn Song, Pieter Abbeel, Yuval Noah Harari, Ya-Qin Zhang, Lan Xue, Shai Shalev-Shwartz, Gillian Hadfield, Jeff Clune, Tegan Maharaj, Frank Hutter, Atılım Güneş Baydin, Sheila McIlraith, Qiqi Gao, Ashwin Acharya, David Krueger, Anca Dragan, Philip Torr, Stuart Russell, Daniel Kahneman, Jan Brauner, Sören Mindermann

In this short consensus paper, we outline risks from upcoming, advanced AI systems. We examine large-scale social harms and malicious uses, as well as an irreversible loss of human control over autonomous AI systems. In light of rapid and continuing AI progress, we propose priorities for AI R&D and governance.

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Learning Optimal Advantage from Preferences and Mistaking it for Reward

Oct 03, 2023
W. Bradley Knox, Stephane Hatgis-Kessell, Sigurdur Orn Adalgeirsson, Serena Booth, Anca Dragan, Peter Stone, Scott Niekum

We consider algorithms for learning reward functions from human preferences over pairs of trajectory segments, as used in reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF). Most recent work assumes that human preferences are generated based only upon the reward accrued within those segments, or their partial return. Recent work casts doubt on the validity of this assumption, proposing an alternative preference model based upon regret. We investigate the consequences of assuming preferences are based upon partial return when they actually arise from regret. We argue that the learned function is an approximation of the optimal advantage function, $\hat{A^*_r}$, not a reward function. We find that if a specific pitfall is addressed, this incorrect assumption is not particularly harmful, resulting in a highly shaped reward function. Nonetheless, this incorrect usage of $\hat{A^*_r}$ is less desirable than the appropriate and simpler approach of greedy maximization of $\hat{A^*_r}$. From the perspective of the regret preference model, we also provide a clearer interpretation of fine tuning contemporary large language models with RLHF. This paper overall provides insight regarding why learning under the partial return preference model tends to work so well in practice, despite it conforming poorly to how humans give preferences.

* 8 pages (16 pages with references and appendix), 11 figures 
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Learning to Model the World with Language

Jul 31, 2023
Jessy Lin, Yuqing Du, Olivia Watkins, Danijar Hafner, Pieter Abbeel, Dan Klein, Anca Dragan

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To interact with humans in the world, agents need to understand the diverse types of language that people use, relate them to the visual world, and act based on them. While current agents learn to execute simple language instructions from task rewards, we aim to build agents that leverage diverse language that conveys general knowledge, describes the state of the world, provides interactive feedback, and more. Our key idea is that language helps agents predict the future: what will be observed, how the world will behave, and which situations will be rewarded. This perspective unifies language understanding with future prediction as a powerful self-supervised learning objective. We present Dynalang, an agent that learns a multimodal world model that predicts future text and image representations and learns to act from imagined model rollouts. Unlike traditional agents that use language only to predict actions, Dynalang acquires rich language understanding by using past language also to predict future language, video, and rewards. In addition to learning from online interaction in an environment, Dynalang can be pretrained on datasets of text, video, or both without actions or rewards. From using language hints in grid worlds to navigating photorealistic scans of homes, Dynalang utilizes diverse types of language to improve task performance, including environment descriptions, game rules, and instructions.

* Website: 
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Open Problems and Fundamental Limitations of Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback

Jul 27, 2023
Stephen Casper, Xander Davies, Claudia Shi, Thomas Krendl Gilbert, Jérémy Scheurer, Javier Rando, Rachel Freedman, Tomasz Korbak, David Lindner, Pedro Freire, Tony Wang, Samuel Marks, Charbel-Raphaël Segerie, Micah Carroll, Andi Peng, Phillip Christoffersen, Mehul Damani, Stewart Slocum, Usman Anwar, Anand Siththaranjan, Max Nadeau, Eric J. Michaud, Jacob Pfau, Dmitrii Krasheninnikov, Xin Chen, Lauro Langosco, Peter Hase, Erdem Bıyık, Anca Dragan, David Krueger, Dorsa Sadigh, Dylan Hadfield-Menell

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Reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) is a technique for training AI systems to align with human goals. RLHF has emerged as the central method used to finetune state-of-the-art large language models (LLMs). Despite this popularity, there has been relatively little public work systematizing its flaws. In this paper, we (1) survey open problems and fundamental limitations of RLHF and related methods; (2) overview techniques to understand, improve, and complement RLHF in practice; and (3) propose auditing and disclosure standards to improve societal oversight of RLHF systems. Our work emphasizes the limitations of RLHF and highlights the importance of a multi-faceted approach to the development of safer AI systems.

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Goal Representations for Instruction Following: A Semi-Supervised Language Interface to Control

Jun 30, 2023
Vivek Myers, Andre He, Kuan Fang, Homer Walke, Philippe Hansen-Estruch, Ching-An Cheng, Mihai Jalobeanu, Andrey Kolobov, Anca Dragan, Sergey Levine

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Our goal is for robots to follow natural language instructions like "put the towel next to the microwave." But getting large amounts of labeled data, i.e. data that contains demonstrations of tasks labeled with the language instruction, is prohibitive. In contrast, obtaining policies that respond to image goals is much easier, because any autonomous trial or demonstration can be labeled in hindsight with its final state as the goal. In this work, we contribute a method that taps into joint image- and goal- conditioned policies with language using only a small amount of language data. Prior work has made progress on this using vision-language models or by jointly training language-goal-conditioned policies, but so far neither method has scaled effectively to real-world robot tasks without significant human annotation. Our method achieves robust performance in the real world by learning an embedding from the labeled data that aligns language not to the goal image, but rather to the desired change between the start and goal images that the instruction corresponds to. We then train a policy on this embedding: the policy benefits from all the unlabeled data, but the aligned embedding provides an interface for language to steer the policy. We show instruction following across a variety of manipulation tasks in different scenes, with generalization to language instructions outside of the labeled data. Videos and code for our approach can be found on our website: .

* 15 pages, 5 figures 
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Toward Grounded Social Reasoning

Jun 14, 2023
Minae Kwon, Hengyuan Hu, Vivek Myers, Siddharth Karamcheti, Anca Dragan, Dorsa Sadigh

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Consider a robot tasked with tidying a desk with a meticulously constructed Lego sports car. A human may recognize that it is not socially appropriate to disassemble the sports car and put it away as part of the "tidying". How can a robot reach that conclusion? Although large language models (LLMs) have recently been used to enable social reasoning, grounding this reasoning in the real world has been challenging. To reason in the real world, robots must go beyond passively querying LLMs and *actively gather information from the environment* that is required to make the right decision. For instance, after detecting that there is an occluded car, the robot may need to actively perceive the car to know whether it is an advanced model car made out of Legos or a toy car built by a toddler. We propose an approach that leverages an LLM and vision language model (VLM) to help a robot actively perceive its environment to perform grounded social reasoning. To evaluate our framework at scale, we release the MessySurfaces dataset which contains images of 70 real-world surfaces that need to be cleaned. We additionally illustrate our approach with a robot on 2 carefully designed surfaces. We find an average 12.9% improvement on the MessySurfaces benchmark and an average 15% improvement on the robot experiments over baselines that do not use active perception. The dataset, code, and videos of our approach can be found at

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Bridging RL Theory and Practice with the Effective Horizon

Apr 19, 2023
Cassidy Laidlaw, Stuart Russell, Anca Dragan

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Deep reinforcement learning (RL) works impressively in some environments and fails catastrophically in others. Ideally, RL theory should be able to provide an understanding of why this is, i.e. bounds predictive of practical performance. Unfortunately, current theory does not quite have this ability. We compare standard deep RL algorithms to prior sample complexity prior bounds by introducing a new dataset, BRIDGE. It consists of 155 MDPs from common deep RL benchmarks, along with their corresponding tabular representations, which enables us to exactly compute instance-dependent bounds. We find that prior bounds do not correlate well with when deep RL succeeds vs. fails, but discover a surprising property that does. When actions with the highest Q-values under the random policy also have the highest Q-values under the optimal policy, deep RL tends to succeed; when they don't, deep RL tends to fail. We generalize this property into a new complexity measure of an MDP that we call the effective horizon, which roughly corresponds to how many steps of lookahead search are needed in order to identify the next optimal action when leaf nodes are evaluated with random rollouts. Using BRIDGE, we show that the effective horizon-based bounds are more closely reflective of the empirical performance of PPO and DQN than prior sample complexity bounds across four metrics. We also show that, unlike existing bounds, the effective horizon can predict the effects of using reward shaping or a pre-trained exploration policy.

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Learning to Influence Human Behavior with Offline Reinforcement Learning

Mar 10, 2023
Joey Hong, Anca Dragan, Sergey Levine

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In the real world, some of the most complex settings for learned agents involve interaction with humans, who often exhibit suboptimal, unpredictable behavior due to sophisticated biases. Agents that interact with people in such settings end up influencing the actions that these people take. Our goal in this work is to enable agents to leverage that influence to improve the human's performance in collaborative tasks, as the task unfolds. Unlike prior work, we do not assume online training with people (which tends to be too expensive and unsafe), nor access to a high fidelity simulator of the environment. Our idea is that by taking a variety of previously observed human-human interaction data and labeling it with the task reward, offline reinforcement learning (RL) can learn to combine components of behavior, and uncover actions that lead to more desirable human actions. First, we show that offline RL can learn strategies to influence and improve human behavior, despite those strategies not appearing in the dataset, by utilizing components of diverse, suboptimal interactions. In addition, we demonstrate that offline RL can learn influence that adapts with humans, thus achieving long-term coordination with them even when their behavior changes. We evaluate our proposed method with real people in the Overcooked collaborative benchmark domain, and demonstrate successful improvement in human performance.

* 12 pages, 7 figures 
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