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

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Abstract: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.

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Authors:W. Bradley Knox, Stephane Hatgis-Kessell, Serena Booth, Scott Niekum, Peter Stone, Alessandro Allievi

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Abstract:The utility of reinforcement learning is limited by the alignment of reward functions with the interests of human stakeholders. One promising method for alignment is to learn the reward function from human-generated preferences between pairs of trajectory segments. These human preferences are typically assumed to be informed solely by partial return, the sum of rewards along each segment. We find this assumption to be flawed and propose modeling preferences instead as arising from a different statistic: each segment's regret, a measure of a segment's deviation from optimal decision-making. Given infinitely many preferences generated according to regret, we prove that we can identify a reward function equivalent to the reward function that generated those preferences. We also prove that the previous partial return model lacks this identifiability property without preference noise that reveals rewards' relative proportions, and we empirically show that our proposed regret preference model outperforms it with finite training data in otherwise the same setting. Additionally, our proposed regret preference model better predicts real human preferences and also learns reward functions from these preferences that lead to policies that are better human-aligned. Overall, this work establishes that the choice of preference model is impactful, and our proposed regret preference model provides an improvement upon a core assumption of recent research.

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