A natural approach for reinforcement learning is to predict future rewards by unrolling a neural network world model, and to backpropagate through the resulting computational graph to learn a policy. However, this method often becomes impractical for long horizons since typical world models induce hard-to-optimize loss landscapes. Transformers are known to efficiently propagate gradients over long horizons: could they be the solution to this problem? Surprisingly, we show that commonly-used transformer world models produce circuitous gradient paths, which can be detrimental to long-range policy gradients. To tackle this challenge, we propose a class of world models called Actions World Models (AWMs), designed to provide more direct routes for gradient propagation. We integrate such AWMs into a policy gradient framework that underscores the relationship between network architectures and the policy gradient updates they inherently represent. We demonstrate that AWMs can generate optimization landscapes that are easier to navigate even when compared to those from the simulator itself. This property allows transformer AWMs to produce better policies than competitive baselines in realistic long-horizon tasks.
* Michel Ma and Pierluca D'Oro contributed equally
Representations are at the core of all deep reinforcement learning (RL) methods for both Markov decision processes (MDPs) and partially observable Markov decision processes (POMDPs). Many representation learning methods and theoretical frameworks have been developed to understand what constitutes an effective representation. However, the relationships between these methods and the shared properties among them remain unclear. In this paper, we show that many of these seemingly distinct methods and frameworks for state and history abstractions are, in fact, based on a common idea of self-predictive abstraction. Furthermore, we provide theoretical insights into the widely adopted objectives and optimization, such as the stop-gradient technique, in learning self-predictive representations. These findings together yield a minimalist algorithm to learn self-predictive representations for states and histories. We validate our theories by applying our algorithm to standard MDPs, MDPs with distractors, and POMDPs with sparse rewards. These findings culminate in a set of practical guidelines for RL practitioners.
Generative Flow Networks (GFNs) have emerged as a powerful tool for sampling discrete objects from unnormalized distributions, offering a scalable alternative to Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods. While GFNs draw inspiration from maximum entropy reinforcement learning (RL), the connection between the two has largely been unclear and seemingly applicable only in specific cases. This paper addresses the connection by constructing an appropriate reward function, thereby establishing an exact relationship between GFNs and maximum entropy RL. This construction allows us to introduce maximum entropy GFNs, which, in contrast to GFNs with uniform backward policy, achieve the maximum entropy attainable by GFNs without constraints on the state space.
Koopman representations aim to learn features of nonlinear dynamical systems (NLDS) which lead to linear dynamics in the latent space. Theoretically, such features can be used to simplify many problems in modeling and control of NLDS. In this work we study autoencoder formulations of this problem, and different ways they can be used to model dynamics, specifically for future state prediction over long horizons. We discover several limitations of predicting future states in the latent space and propose an inference-time mechanism, which we refer to as Periodic Reencoding, for faithfully capturing long term dynamics. We justify this method both analytically and empirically via experiments in low and high dimensional NLDS.
Exploring rich environments and evaluating one's actions without prior knowledge is immensely challenging. In this paper, we propose Motif, a general method to interface such prior knowledge from a Large Language Model (LLM) with an agent. Motif is based on the idea of grounding LLMs for decision-making without requiring them to interact with the environment: it elicits preferences from an LLM over pairs of captions to construct an intrinsic reward, which is then used to train agents with reinforcement learning. We evaluate Motif's performance and behavior on the challenging, open-ended and procedurally-generated NetHack game. Surprisingly, by only learning to maximize its intrinsic reward, Motif achieves a higher game score than an algorithm directly trained to maximize the score itself. When combining Motif's intrinsic reward with the environment reward, our method significantly outperforms existing approaches and makes progress on tasks where no advancements have ever been made without demonstrations. Finally, we show that Motif mostly generates intuitive human-aligned behaviors which can be steered easily through prompt modifications, while scaling well with the LLM size and the amount of information given in the prompt.
* The first two authors equally contributed - order decided by coin
Deep reinforcement learning agents for continuous control are known to exhibit significant instability in their performance over time. In this work, we provide a fresh perspective on these behaviors by studying the return landscape: the mapping between a policy and a return. We find that popular algorithms traverse noisy neighborhoods of this landscape, in which a single update to the policy parameters leads to a wide range of returns. By taking a distributional view of these returns, we map the landscape, characterizing failure-prone regions of policy space and revealing a hidden dimension of policy quality. We show that the landscape exhibits surprising structure by finding simple paths in parameter space which improve the stability of a policy. To conclude, we develop a distribution-aware procedure which finds such paths, navigating away from noisy neighborhoods in order to improve the robustness of a policy. Taken together, our results provide new insight into the optimization, evaluation, and design of agents.
Reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms face two distinct challenges: learning effective representations of past and present observations, and determining how actions influence future returns. Both challenges involve modeling long-term dependencies. The transformer architecture has been very successful to solve problems that involve long-term dependencies, including in the RL domain. However, the underlying reason for the strong performance of Transformer-based RL methods remains unclear: is it because they learn effective memory, or because they perform effective credit assignment? After introducing formal definitions of memory length and credit assignment length, we design simple configurable tasks to measure these distinct quantities. Our empirical results reveal that Transformers can enhance the memory capacity of RL algorithms, scaling up to tasks that require memorizing observations $1500$ steps ago. However, Transformers do not improve long-term credit assignment. In summary, our results provide an explanation for the success of Transformers in RL, while also highlighting an important area for future research and benchmark design.
In recent years, in-silico molecular design has received much attention from the machine learning community. When designing a new compound for pharmaceutical applications, there are usually multiple properties of such molecules that need to be optimised: binding energy to the target, synthesizability, toxicity, EC50, and so on. While previous approaches have employed a scalarization scheme to turn the multi-objective problem into a preference-conditioned single objective, it has been established that this kind of reduction may produce solutions that tend to slide towards the extreme points of the objective space when presented with a problem that exhibits a concave Pareto front. In this work we experiment with an alternative formulation of goal-conditioned molecular generation to obtain a more controllable conditional model that can uniformly explore solutions along the entire Pareto front.