Some reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms can stitch pieces of experience to solve a task never seen before during training. This oft-sought property is one of the few ways in which RL methods based on dynamic-programming differ from RL methods based on supervised-learning (SL). Yet, certain RL methods based on off-the-shelf SL algorithms achieve excellent results without an explicit mechanism for stitching; it remains unclear whether those methods forgo this important stitching property. This paper studies this question for the problems of achieving a target goal state and achieving a target return value. Our main result is to show that the stitching property corresponds to a form of combinatorial generalization: after training on a distribution of (state, goal) pairs, one would like to evaluate on (state, goal) pairs not seen together in the training data. Our analysis shows that this sort of generalization is different from i.i.d. generalization. This connection between stitching and generalisation reveals why we should not expect SL-based RL methods to perform stitching, even in the limit of large datasets and models. Based on this analysis, we construct new datasets to explicitly test for this property, revealing that SL-based methods lack this stitching property and hence fail to perform combinatorial generalization. Nonetheless, the connection between stitching and combinatorial generalisation also suggests a simple remedy for improving generalisation in SL: data augmentation. We propose a temporal data augmentation and demonstrate that adding it to SL-based methods enables them to successfully complete tasks not seen together during training. On a high level, this connection illustrates the importance of combinatorial generalization for data efficiency in time-series data beyond tasks beyond RL, like audio, video, or text.
Reinforcement learning (RL) over text representations can be effective for finding high-value policies that can search over graphs. However, RL requires careful structuring of the search space and algorithm design to be effective in this challenge. Through extensive experiments, we explore how different design choices for text grammar and algorithmic choices for training can affect an RL policy's ability to generate molecules with desired properties. We arrive at a new RL-based molecular design algorithm (ChemRLformer) and perform a thorough analysis using 25 molecule design tasks, including computationally complex protein docking simulations. From this analysis, we discover unique insights in this problem space and show that ChemRLformer achieves state-of-the-art performance while being more straightforward than prior work by demystifying which design choices are actually helpful for text-based molecule design.
While reinforcement learning (RL) methods that learn an internal model of the environment have the potential to be more sample efficient than their model-free counterparts, learning to model raw observations from high dimensional sensors can be challenging. Prior work has addressed this challenge by learning low-dimensional representation of observations through auxiliary objectives, such as reconstruction or value prediction. However, the alignment between these auxiliary objectives and the RL objective is often unclear. In this work, we propose a single objective which jointly optimizes a latent-space model and policy to achieve high returns while remaining self-consistent. This objective is a lower bound on expected returns. Unlike prior bounds for model-based RL on policy exploration or model guarantees, our bound is directly on the overall RL objective. We demonstrate that the resulting algorithm matches or improves the sample-efficiency of the best prior model-based and model-free RL methods. While such sample efficient methods typically are computationally demanding, our method attains the performance of SAC in about 50\% less wall-clock time.