The fields of both Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Automated Machine Learning (AutoML) have achieved remarkable results over the past years. In NLP, especially Large Language Models (LLMs) have experienced a rapid series of breakthroughs very recently. We envision that the two fields can radically push the boundaries of each other through tight integration. To showcase this vision, we explore the potential of a symbiotic relationship between AutoML and LLMs, shedding light on how they can benefit each other. In particular, we investigate both the opportunities to enhance AutoML approaches with LLMs from different perspectives and the challenges of leveraging AutoML to further improve LLMs. To this end, we survey existing work, and we critically assess risks. We strongly believe that the integration of the two fields has the potential to disrupt both fields, NLP and AutoML. By highlighting conceivable synergies, but also risks, we aim to foster further exploration at the intersection of AutoML and LLMs.
In order to improve reproducibility, deep reinforcement learning (RL) has been adopting better scientific practices such as standardized evaluation metrics and reporting. However, the process of hyperparameter optimization still varies widely across papers, which makes it challenging to compare RL algorithms fairly. In this paper, we show that hyperparameter choices in RL can significantly affect the agent's final performance and sample efficiency, and that the hyperparameter landscape can strongly depend on the tuning seed which may lead to overfitting. We therefore propose adopting established best practices from AutoML, such as the separation of tuning and testing seeds, as well as principled hyperparameter optimization (HPO) across a broad search space. We support this by comparing multiple state-of-the-art HPO tools on a range of RL algorithms and environments to their hand-tuned counterparts, demonstrating that HPO approaches often have higher performance and lower compute overhead. As a result of our findings, we recommend a set of best practices for the RL community, which should result in stronger empirical results with fewer computational costs, better reproducibility, and thus faster progress. In order to encourage the adoption of these practices, we provide plug-and-play implementations of the tuning algorithms used in this paper at https://github.com/facebookresearch/how-to-autorl.
Although Reinforcement Learning (RL) has shown impressive results in games and simulation, real-world application of RL suffers from its instability under changing environment conditions and hyperparameters. We give a first impression of the extent of this instability by showing that the hyperparameters found by automatic hyperparameter optimization (HPO) methods are not only dependent on the problem at hand, but even on how well the state describes the environment dynamics. Specifically, we show that agents in contextual RL require different hyperparameters if they are shown how environmental factors change. In addition, finding adequate hyperparameter configurations is not equally easy for both settings, further highlighting the need for research into how hyperparameters influence learning and generalization in RL.
The performance of an algorithm often critically depends on its parameter configuration. While a variety of automated algorithm configuration methods have been proposed to relieve users from the tedious and error-prone task of manually tuning parameters, there is still a lot of untapped potential as the learned configuration is static, i.e., parameter settings remain fixed throughout the run. However, it has been shown that some algorithm parameters are best adjusted dynamically during execution, e.g., to adapt to the current part of the optimization landscape. Thus far, this is most commonly achieved through hand-crafted heuristics. A promising recent alternative is to automatically learn such dynamic parameter adaptation policies from data. In this article, we give the first comprehensive account of this new field of automated dynamic algorithm configuration (DAC), present a series of recent advances, and provide a solid foundation for future research in this field. Specifically, we (i) situate DAC in the broader historical context of AI research; (ii) formalize DAC as a computational problem; (iii) identify the methods used in prior-art to tackle this problem; (iv) conduct empirical case studies for using DAC in evolutionary optimization, AI planning, and machine learning.
While Reinforcement Learning (RL) has made great strides towards solving increasingly complicated problems, many algorithms are still brittle to even slight changes in environments. Contextual Reinforcement Learning (cRL) provides a theoretical framework to model such changes in a principled manner, thereby enabling flexible, precise and interpretable task specification and generation. Thus, cRL is an important formalization for studying generalization in RL. In this work, we reason about solving cRL in theory and practice. We show that theoretically optimal behavior in contextual Markov Decision Processes requires explicit context information. In addition, we empirically explore context-based task generation, utilizing context information in training and propose cGate, our state-modulating policy architecture. To this end, we introduce the first benchmark library designed for generalization based on cRL extensions of popular benchmarks, CARL. In short: Context matters!
The combination of Reinforcement Learning (RL) with deep learning has led to a series of impressive feats, with many believing (deep) RL provides a path towards generally capable agents. However, the success of RL agents is often highly sensitive to design choices in the training process, which may require tedious and error-prone manual tuning. This makes it challenging to use RL for new problems, while also limits its full potential. In many other areas of machine learning, AutoML has shown it is possible to automate such design choices and has also yielded promising initial results when applied to RL. However, Automated Reinforcement Learning (AutoRL) involves not only standard applications of AutoML but also includes additional challenges unique to RL, that naturally produce a different set of methods. As such, AutoRL has been emerging as an important area of research in RL, providing promise in a variety of applications from RNA design to playing games such as Go. Given the diversity of methods and environments considered in RL, much of the research has been conducted in distinct subfields, ranging from meta-learning to evolution. In this survey we seek to unify the field of AutoRL, we provide a common taxonomy, discuss each area in detail and pose open problems which would be of interest to researchers going forward.
While Reinforcement Learning has made great strides towards solving ever more complicated tasks, many algorithms are still brittle to even slight changes in their environment. This is a limiting factor for real-world applications of RL. Although the research community continuously aims at improving both robustness and generalization of RL algorithms, unfortunately it still lacks an open-source set of well-defined benchmark problems based on a consistent theoretical framework, which allows comparing different approaches in a fair, reliable and reproducibleway. To fill this gap, we propose CARL, a collection of well-known RL environments extended to contextual RL problems to study generalization. We show the urgent need of such benchmarks by demonstrating that even simple toy environments become challenging for commonly used approaches if different contextual instances of this task have to be considered. Furthermore, CARL allows us to provide first evidence that disentangling representation learning of the states from the policy learning with the context facilitates better generalization. By providing variations of diverse benchmarks from classic control, physical simulations, games and a real-world application of RNA design, CARL will allow the community to derive many more such insights on a solid empirical foundation.
The use of Reinforcement Learning (RL) agents in practical applications requires the consideration of suboptimal outcomes, depending on the familiarity of the agent with its environment. This is especially important in safety-critical environments, where errors can lead to high costs or damage. In distributional RL, the risk-sensitivity can be controlled via different distortion measures of the estimated return distribution. However, these distortion functions require an estimate of the risk level, which is difficult to obtain and depends on the current state. In this work, we demonstrate the suboptimality of a static risk level estimation and propose a method to dynamically select risk levels at each environment step. Our method ARA (Automatic Risk Adaptation) estimates the appropriate risk level in both known and unknown environments using a Random Network Distillation error. We show reduced failure rates by up to a factor of 7 and improved generalization performance by up to 14% compared to both risk-aware and risk-agnostic agents in several locomotion environments.
Reinforcement learning (RL) has made a lot of advances for solving a single problem in a given environment; but learning policies that generalize to unseen variations of a problem remains challenging. To improve sample efficiency for learning on such instances of a problem domain, we present Self-Paced Context Evaluation (SPaCE). Based on self-paced learning, \spc automatically generates \task curricula online with little computational overhead. To this end, SPaCE leverages information contained in state values during training to accelerate and improve training performance as well as generalization capabilities to new instances from the same problem domain. Nevertheless, SPaCE is independent of the problem domain at hand and can be applied on top of any RL agent with state-value function approximation. We demonstrate SPaCE's ability to speed up learning of different value-based RL agents on two environments, showing better generalization capabilities and up to 10x faster learning compared to naive approaches such as round robin or SPDRL, as the closest state-of-the-art approach.
Dynamic Algorithm Configuration (DAC) aims to dynamically control a target algorithm's hyperparameters in order to improve its performance. Several theoretical and empirical results have demonstrated the benefits of dynamically controlling hyperparameters in domains like evolutionary computation, AI Planning or deep learning. Replicating these results, as well as studying new methods for DAC, however, is difficult since existing benchmarks are often specialized and incompatible with the same interfaces. To facilitate benchmarking and thus research on DAC, we propose DACBench, a benchmark library that seeks to collect and standardize existing DAC benchmarks from different AI domains, as well as provide a template for new ones. For the design of DACBench, we focused on important desiderata, such as (i) flexibility, (ii) reproducibility, (iii) extensibility and (iv) automatic documentation and visualization. To show the potential, broad applicability and challenges of DAC, we explore how a set of six initial benchmarks compare in several dimensions of difficulty.