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Rui Yang, Xiaoman Pan, Feng Luo, Shuang Qiu, Han Zhong, Dong Yu, Jianshu Chen

We consider the problem of multi-objective alignment of foundation models with human preferences, which is a critical step towards helpful and harmless AI systems. However, it is generally costly and unstable to fine-tune large foundation models using reinforcement learning (RL), and the multi-dimensionality, heterogeneity, and conflicting nature of human preferences further complicate the alignment process. In this paper, we introduce Rewards-in-Context (RiC), which conditions the response of a foundation model on multiple rewards in its prompt context and applies supervised fine-tuning for alignment. The salient features of RiC are simplicity and adaptivity, as it only requires supervised fine-tuning of a single foundation model and supports dynamic adjustment for user preferences during inference time. Inspired by the analytical solution of an abstracted convex optimization problem, our dynamic inference-time adjustment method approaches the Pareto-optimal solution for multiple objectives. Empirical evidence demonstrates the efficacy of our method in aligning both Large Language Models (LLMs) and diffusion models to accommodate diverse rewards with only around 10% GPU hours compared with multi-objective RL baseline.

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Guhao Feng, Han Zhong

Reinforcement Learning (RL) encompasses diverse paradigms, including model-based RL, policy-based RL, and value-based RL, each tailored to approximate the model, optimal policy, and optimal value function, respectively. This work investigates the potential hierarchy of representation complexity -- the complexity of functions to be represented -- among these RL paradigms. We first demonstrate that, for a broad class of Markov decision processes (MDPs), the model can be represented by constant-depth circuits with polynomial size or Multi-Layer Perceptrons (MLPs) with constant layers and polynomial hidden dimension. However, the representation of the optimal policy and optimal value proves to be $\mathsf{NP}$-complete and unattainable by constant-layer MLPs with polynomial size. This demonstrates a significant representation complexity gap between model-based RL and model-free RL, which includes policy-based RL and value-based RL. To further explore the representation complexity hierarchy between policy-based RL and value-based RL, we introduce another general class of MDPs where both the model and optimal policy can be represented by constant-depth circuits with polynomial size or constant-layer MLPs with polynomial size. In contrast, representing the optimal value is $\mathsf{P}$-complete and intractable via a constant-layer MLP with polynomial hidden dimension. This accentuates the intricate representation complexity associated with value-based RL compared to policy-based RL. In summary, we unveil a potential representation complexity hierarchy within RL -- representing the model emerges as the easiest task, followed by the optimal policy, while representing the optimal value function presents the most intricate challenge.

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Wei Xiong, Hanze Dong, Chenlu Ye, Han Zhong, Nan Jiang, Tong Zhang

This paper studies the theoretical framework of the alignment process of generative models with Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF). We consider a standard mathematical formulation, the reverse-KL regularized contextual bandit for RLHF. Despite its widespread practical application, a rigorous theoretical analysis of this formulation remains open. We investigate its theoretical properties both in offline and online settings and propose efficient algorithms with finite-sample theoretical guarantees. Our work bridges the gap between theory and practice by linking our theoretical insights with existing practical alignment algorithms such as Direct Preference Optimization (DPO) and Rejection Sampling Optimization (RSO). Furthermore, these findings and connections also offer both theoretical and practical communities new tools and insights for future algorithmic design of alignment algorithms.

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Jiayi Huang, Han Zhong, Liwei Wang, Lin F. Yang

To tackle long planning horizon problems in reinforcement learning with general function approximation, we propose the first algorithm, termed as UCRL-WVTR, that achieves both \emph{horizon-free} and \emph{instance-dependent}, since it eliminates the polynomial dependency on the planning horizon. The derived regret bound is deemed \emph{sharp}, as it matches the minimax lower bound when specialized to linear mixture MDPs up to logarithmic factors. Furthermore, UCRL-WVTR is \emph{computationally efficient} with access to a regression oracle. The achievement of such a horizon-free, instance-dependent, and sharp regret bound hinges upon (i) novel algorithm designs: weighted value-targeted regression and a high-order moment estimator in the context of general function approximation; and (ii) fine-grained analyses: a novel concentration bound of weighted non-linear least squares and a refined analysis which leads to the tight instance-dependent bound. We also conduct comprehensive experiments to corroborate our theoretical findings.

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Shuang Qiu, Ziyu Dai, Han Zhong, Zhaoran Wang, Zhuoran Yang, Tong Zhang

This paper investigates posterior sampling algorithms for competitive reinforcement learning (RL) in the context of general function approximations. Focusing on zero-sum Markov games (MGs) under two critical settings, namely self-play and adversarial learning, we first propose the self-play and adversarial generalized eluder coefficient (GEC) as complexity measures for function approximation, capturing the exploration-exploitation trade-off in MGs. Based on self-play GEC, we propose a model-based self-play posterior sampling method to control both players to learn Nash equilibrium, which can successfully handle the partial observability of states. Furthermore, we identify a set of partially observable MG models fitting MG learning with the adversarial policies of the opponent. Incorporating the adversarial GEC, we propose a model-based posterior sampling method for learning adversarial MG with potential partial observability. We further provide low regret bounds for proposed algorithms that can scale sublinearly with the proposed GEC and the number of episodes $T$. To the best of our knowledge, we for the first time develop generic model-based posterior sampling algorithms for competitive RL that can be applied to a majority of tractable zero-sum MG classes in both fully observable and partially observable MGs with self-play and adversarial learning.

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Rui Yang, Han Zhong, Jiawei Xu, Amy Zhang, Chongjie Zhang, Lei Han, Tong Zhang

Offline reinforcement learning (RL) presents a promising approach for learning reinforced policies from offline datasets without the need for costly or unsafe interactions with the environment. However, datasets collected by humans in real-world environments are often noisy and may even be maliciously corrupted, which can significantly degrade the performance of offline RL. In this work, we first investigate the performance of current offline RL algorithms under comprehensive data corruption, including states, actions, rewards, and dynamics. Our extensive experiments reveal that implicit Q-learning (IQL) demonstrates remarkable resilience to data corruption among various offline RL algorithms. Furthermore, we conduct both empirical and theoretical analyses to understand IQL's robust performance, identifying its supervised policy learning scheme as the key factor. Despite its relative robustness, IQL still suffers from heavy-tail targets of Q functions under dynamics corruption. To tackle this challenge, we draw inspiration from robust statistics to employ the Huber loss to handle the heavy-tailedness and utilize quantile estimators to balance penalization for corrupted data and learning stability. By incorporating these simple yet effective modifications into IQL, we propose a more robust offline RL approach named Robust IQL (RIQL). Extensive experiments demonstrate that RIQL exhibits highly robust performance when subjected to diverse data corruption scenarios.

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Jiayi Huang, Han Zhong, Liwei Wang, Lin F. Yang

While numerous works have focused on devising efficient algorithms for reinforcement learning (RL) with uniformly bounded rewards, it remains an open question whether sample or time-efficient algorithms for RL with large state-action space exist when the rewards are \emph{heavy-tailed}, i.e., with only finite $(1+\epsilon)$-th moments for some $\epsilon\in(0,1]$. In this work, we address the challenge of such rewards in RL with linear function approximation. We first design an algorithm, \textsc{Heavy-OFUL}, for heavy-tailed linear bandits, achieving an \emph{instance-dependent} $T$-round regret of $\tilde{O}\big(d T^{\frac{1-\epsilon}{2(1+\epsilon)}} \sqrt{\sum_{t=1}^T \nu_t^2} + d T^{\frac{1-\epsilon}{2(1+\epsilon)}}\big)$, the \emph{first} of this kind. Here, $d$ is the feature dimension, and $\nu_t^{1+\epsilon}$ is the $(1+\epsilon)$-th central moment of the reward at the $t$-th round. We further show the above bound is minimax optimal when applied to the worst-case instances in stochastic and deterministic linear bandits. We then extend this algorithm to the RL settings with linear function approximation. Our algorithm, termed as \textsc{Heavy-LSVI-UCB}, achieves the \emph{first} computationally efficient \emph{instance-dependent} $K$-episode regret of $\tilde{O}(d \sqrt{H \mathcal{U}^*} K^\frac{1}{1+\epsilon} + d \sqrt{H \mathcal{V}^* K})$. Here, $H$ is length of the episode, and $\mathcal{U}^*, \mathcal{V}^*$ are instance-dependent quantities scaling with the central moment of reward and value functions, respectively. We also provide a matching minimax lower bound $\Omega(d H K^{\frac{1}{1+\epsilon}} + d \sqrt{H^3 K})$ to demonstrate the optimality of our algorithm in the worst case. Our result is achieved via a novel robust self-normalized concentration inequality that may be of independent interest in handling heavy-tailed noise in general online regression problems.

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Zhihan Liu, Miao Lu, Wei Xiong, Han Zhong, Hao Hu, Shenao Zhang, Sirui Zheng, Zhuoran Yang, Zhaoran Wang

In online reinforcement learning (online RL), balancing exploration and exploitation is crucial for finding an optimal policy in a sample-efficient way. To achieve this, existing sample-efficient online RL algorithms typically consist of three components: estimation, planning, and exploration. However, in order to cope with general function approximators, most of them involve impractical algorithmic components to incentivize exploration, such as optimization within data-dependent level-sets or complicated sampling procedures. To address this challenge, we propose an easy-to-implement RL framework called \textit{Maximize to Explore} (\texttt{MEX}), which only needs to optimize \emph{unconstrainedly} a single objective that integrates the estimation and planning components while balancing exploration and exploitation automatically. Theoretically, we prove that \texttt{MEX} achieves a sublinear regret with general function approximations for Markov decision processes (MDP) and is further extendable to two-player zero-sum Markov games (MG). Meanwhile, we adapt deep RL baselines to design practical versions of \texttt{MEX}, in both model-free and model-based manners, which can outperform baselines by a stable margin in various MuJoCo environments with sparse rewards. Compared with existing sample-efficient online RL algorithms with general function approximations, \texttt{MEX} achieves similar sample efficiency while enjoying a lower computational cost and is more compatible with modern deep RL methods.

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Jose Blanchet, Miao Lu, Tong Zhang, Han Zhong

We study distributionally robust offline reinforcement learning (robust offline RL), which seeks to find an optimal robust policy purely from an offline dataset that can perform well in perturbed environments. We propose a generic algorithm framework \underline{D}oubly \underline{P}essimistic \underline{M}odel-based \underline{P}olicy \underline{O}ptimization ($\texttt{P}^2\texttt{MPO}$) for robust offline RL, which features a novel combination of a flexible model estimation subroutine and a doubly pessimistic policy optimization step. The \emph{double pessimism} principle is crucial to overcome the distributional shift incurred by i) the mismatch between behavior policy and the family of target policies; and ii) the perturbation of the nominal model. Under certain accuracy assumptions on the model estimation subroutine, we show that $\texttt{P}^2\texttt{MPO}$ is provably efficient with \emph{robust partial coverage data}, which means that the offline dataset has good coverage of the distributions induced by the optimal robust policy and perturbed models around the nominal model. By tailoring specific model estimation subroutines for concrete examples including tabular Robust Markov Decision Process (RMDP), factored RMDP, and RMDP with kernel and neural function approximations, we show that $\texttt{P}^2\texttt{MPO}$ enjoys a $\tilde{\mathcal{O}}(n^{-1/2})$ convergence rate, where $n$ is the number of trajectories in the offline dataset. Notably, these models, except for the tabular case, are first identified and proven tractable by this paper. To the best of our knowledge, we first propose a general learning principle -- double pessimism -- for robust offline RL and show that it is provably efficient in the context of general function approximations.

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