Generalization and Regularization in DQN

Jesse Farebrother, Marlos C. Machado, Michael Bowling

Sep 27, 2018 ICLR 2019 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: Deep reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms have shown an impressive ability to learn complex control policies in high-dimensional environments. However, despite the ever-increasing performance on popular benchmarks like the Arcade Learning Environment (ALE), policies learned by deep RL algorithms can struggle to generalize when evaluated in remarkably similar environments. These results are unexpected given the fact that, in supervised learning, deep neural networks often learn robust features that generalize across tasks. In this paper, we study the generalization capabilities of DQN in order to aid in understanding this mismatch between generalization in deep RL and supervised learning methods. We provide evidence suggesting that DQN overspecializes to the domain it is trained on. We then comprehensively evaluate the impact of traditional methods of regularization from supervised learning, $\ell_2$ and dropout, and of reusing learned representations to improve the generalization capabilities of DQN. We perform this study using different game modes of Atari 2600 games, a recently introduced modification for the ALE which supports slight variations of the Atari 2600 games used for benchmarking in the field. Despite regularization being largely underutilized in deep RL, we show that it can, in fact, help DQN learn more general features. These features can then be reused and fine-tuned on similar tasks, considerably improving the sample efficiency of DQN.
  • Keywords: generalization, reinforcement learning, dqn, regularization, transfer learning, multitask
  • TL;DR: We study the generalization capabilities of DQN using the new modes and difficulties of Atari games. We show how regularization can improve DQN's ability to generalize across tasks, something it often fails to do.
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