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Jan-Philipp Fränken, Sam Kwok, Peixuan Ye, Kanishk Gandhi, Dilip Arumugam, Jared Moore, Alex Tamkin, Tobias Gerstenberg, Noah D. Goodman

We explore the idea of aligning an AI assistant by inverting a model of users' (unknown) preferences from observed interactions. To validate our proposal, we run proof-of-concept simulations in the economic ultimatum game, formalizing user preferences as policies that guide the actions of simulated players. We find that the AI assistant accurately aligns its behavior to match standard policies from the economic literature (e.g., selfish, altruistic). However, the assistant's learned policies lack robustness and exhibit limited generalization in an out-of-distribution setting when confronted with a currency (e.g., grams of medicine) that was not included in the assistant's training distribution. Additionally, we find that when there is inconsistency in the relationship between language use and an unknown policy (e.g., an altruistic policy combined with rude language), the assistant's learning of the policy is slowed. Overall, our preliminary results suggest that developing simulation frameworks in which AI assistants need to infer preferences from diverse users can provide a valuable approach for studying practical alignment questions.

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Akash Velu, Skanda Vaidyanath, Dilip Arumugam

Oftentimes, environments for sequential decision-making problems can be quite sparse in the provision of evaluative feedback to guide reinforcement-learning agents. In the extreme case, long trajectories of behavior are merely punctuated with a single terminal feedback signal, engendering a significant temporal delay between the observation of non-trivial reward and the individual steps of behavior culpable for eliciting such feedback. Coping with such a credit assignment challenge is one of the hallmark characteristics of reinforcement learning and, in this work, we capitalize on existing importance-sampling ratio estimation techniques for off-policy evaluation to drastically improve the handling of credit assignment with policy-gradient methods. While the use of so-called hindsight policies offers a principled mechanism for reweighting on-policy data by saliency to the observed trajectory return, naively applying importance sampling results in unstable or excessively lagged learning. In contrast, our hindsight distribution correction facilitates stable, efficient learning across a broad range of environments where credit assignment plagues baseline methods.

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Wanqiao Xu, Shi Dong, Dilip Arumugam, Benjamin Van Roy

A centerpiece of the ever-popular reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF) approach to fine-tuning autoregressive language models is the explicit training of a reward model to emulate human feedback, distinct from the language model itself. This reward model is then coupled with policy-gradient methods to dramatically improve the alignment between language model outputs and desired responses. In this work, we adopt a novel perspective wherein a pre-trained language model is itself simultaneously a policy, reward function, and transition function. An immediate consequence of this is that reward learning and language model fine-tuning can be performed jointly and directly, without requiring any further downstream policy optimization. While this perspective does indeed break the traditional agent-environment interface, we nevertheless maintain that there can be enormous statistical benefits afforded by bringing to bear traditional algorithmic concepts from reinforcement learning. Our experiments demonstrate one concrete instance of this through efficient exploration based on the representation and resolution of epistemic uncertainty. In order to illustrate these ideas in a transparent manner, we restrict attention to a simple didactic data generating process and leave for future work extension to systems of practical scale.

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Dilip Arumugam, Mark K. Ho, Noah D. Goodman, Benjamin Van Roy

All biological and artificial agents must learn and make decisions given limits on their ability to process information. As such, a general theory of adaptive behavior should be able to account for the complex interactions between an agent's learning history, decisions, and capacity constraints. Recent work in computer science has begun to clarify the principles that shape these dynamics by bridging ideas from reinforcement learning, Bayesian decision-making, and rate-distortion theory. This body of work provides an account of capacity-limited Bayesian reinforcement learning, a unifying normative framework for modeling the effect of processing constraints on learning and action selection. Here, we provide an accessible review of recent algorithms and theoretical results in this setting, paying special attention to how these ideas can be applied to studying questions in the cognitive and behavioral sciences.

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Dilip Arumugam, Shi Dong, Benjamin Van Roy

Prevailing methods for assessing and comparing generative AIs incentivize responses that serve a hypothetical representative individual. Evaluating models in these terms presumes homogeneous preferences across the population and engenders selection of agglomerative AIs, which fail to represent the diverse range of interests across individuals. We propose an alternative evaluation method that instead prioritizes inclusive AIs, which provably retain the requisite knowledge not only for subsequent response customization to particular segments of the population but also for utility-maximizing decisions.

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Dilip Arumugam, Mark K. Ho, Noah D. Goodman, Benjamin Van Roy

Throughout the cognitive-science literature, there is widespread agreement that decision-making agents operating in the real world do so under limited information-processing capabilities and without access to unbounded cognitive or computational resources. Prior work has drawn inspiration from this fact and leveraged an information-theoretic model of such behaviors or policies as communication channels operating under a bounded rate constraint. Meanwhile, a parallel line of work also capitalizes on the same principles from rate-distortion theory to formalize capacity-limited decision making through the notion of a learning target, which facilitates Bayesian regret bounds for provably-efficient learning algorithms. In this paper, we aim to elucidate this latter perspective by presenting a brief survey of these information-theoretic models of capacity-limited decision making in biological and artificial agents.

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Dilip Arumugam, Satinder Singh

The Bayes-Adaptive Markov Decision Process (BAMDP) formalism pursues the Bayes-optimal solution to the exploration-exploitation trade-off in reinforcement learning. As the computation of exact solutions to Bayesian reinforcement-learning problems is intractable, much of the literature has focused on developing suitable approximation algorithms. In this work, before diving into algorithm design, we first define, under mild structural assumptions, a complexity measure for BAMDP planning. As efficient exploration in BAMDPs hinges upon the judicious acquisition of information, our complexity measure highlights the worst-case difficulty of gathering information and exhausting epistemic uncertainty. To illustrate its significance, we establish a computationally-intractable, exact planning algorithm that takes advantage of this measure to show more efficient planning. We then conclude by introducing a specific form of state abstraction with the potential to reduce BAMDP complexity and gives rise to a computationally-tractable, approximate planning algorithm.

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Dilip Arumugam, Benjamin Van Roy

The quintessential model-based reinforcement-learning agent iteratively refines its estimates or prior beliefs about the true underlying model of the environment. Recent empirical successes in model-based reinforcement learning with function approximation, however, eschew the true model in favor of a surrogate that, while ignoring various facets of the environment, still facilitates effective planning over behaviors. Recently formalized as the value equivalence principle, this algorithmic technique is perhaps unavoidable as real-world reinforcement learning demands consideration of a simple, computationally-bounded agent interacting with an overwhelmingly complex environment, whose underlying dynamics likely exceed the agent's capacity for representation. In this work, we consider the scenario where agent limitations may entirely preclude identifying an exactly value-equivalent model, immediately giving rise to a trade-off between identifying a model that is simple enough to learn while only incurring bounded sub-optimality. To address this problem, we introduce an algorithm that, using rate-distortion theory, iteratively computes an approximately-value-equivalent, lossy compression of the environment which an agent may feasibly target in lieu of the true model. We prove an information-theoretic, Bayesian regret bound for our algorithm that holds for any finite-horizon, episodic sequential decision-making problem. Crucially, our regret bound can be expressed in one of two possible forms, providing a performance guarantee for finding either the simplest model that achieves a desired sub-optimality gap or, alternatively, the best model given a limit on agent capacity.

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Dilip Arumugam, Benjamin Van Roy

The quintessential model-based reinforcement-learning agent iteratively refines its estimates or prior beliefs about the true underlying model of the environment. Recent empirical successes in model-based reinforcement learning with function approximation, however, eschew the true model in favor of a surrogate that, while ignoring various facets of the environment, still facilitates effective planning over behaviors. Recently formalized as the value equivalence principle, this algorithmic technique is perhaps unavoidable as real-world reinforcement learning demands consideration of a simple, computationally-bounded agent interacting with an overwhelmingly complex environment. In this work, we entertain an extreme scenario wherein some combination of immense environment complexity and limited agent capacity entirely precludes identifying an exactly value-equivalent model. In light of this, we embrace a notion of approximate value equivalence and introduce an algorithm for incrementally synthesizing simple and useful approximations of the environment from which an agent might still recover near-optimal behavior. Crucially, we recognize the information-theoretic nature of this lossy environment compression problem and use the appropriate tools of rate-distortion theory to make mathematically precise how value equivalence can lend tractability to otherwise intractable sequential decision-making problems.

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Dilip Arumugam, Benjamin Van Roy

All sequential decision-making agents explore so as to acquire knowledge about a particular target. It is often the responsibility of the agent designer to construct this target which, in rich and complex environments, constitutes a onerous burden; without full knowledge of the environment itself, a designer may forge a sub-optimal learning target that poorly balances the amount of information an agent must acquire to identify the target against the target's associated performance shortfall. While recent work has developed a connection between learning targets and rate-distortion theory to address this challenge and empower agents that decide what to learn in an automated fashion, the proposed algorithm does not optimally tackle the equally important challenge of efficient information acquisition. In this work, building upon the seminal design principle of information-directed sampling (Russo & Van Roy, 2014), we address this shortcoming directly to couple optimal information acquisition with the optimal design of learning targets. Along the way, we offer new insights into learning targets from the literature on rate-distortion theory before turning to empirical results that confirm the value of information when deciding what to learn.

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