Recall Traces: Backtracking Models for Efficient Reinforcement Learning

Anirudh Goyal, Philemon Brakel, William Fedus, Soumye Singhal, Timothy Lillicrap, Sergey Levine, Hugo Larochelle, Yoshua Bengio

Sep 27, 2018 ICLR 2019 Conference Blind Submission readers: everyone Show Bibtex
  • Abstract: In many environments only a tiny subset of all states yield high reward. In these cases, few of the interactions with the environment provide a relevant learning signal. Hence, we may want to preferentially train on those high-reward states and the probable trajectories leading to them. To this end, we advocate for the use of a \textit{backtracking model} that predicts the preceding states that terminate at a given high-reward state. We can train a model which, starting from a high value state (or one that is estimated to have high value), predicts and samples which (state, action)-tuples may have led to that high value state. These traces of (state, action) pairs, which we refer to as Recall Traces, sampled from this backtracking model starting from a high value state, are informative as they terminate in good states, and hence we can use these traces to improve a policy. We provide a variational interpretation for this idea and a practical algorithm in which the backtracking model samples from an approximate posterior distribution over trajectories which lead to large rewards. Our method improves the sample efficiency of both on- and off-policy RL algorithms across several environments and tasks.
  • Keywords: Model free RL, Variational Inference
  • TL;DR: A backward model of previous (state, action) given the next state, i.e. P(s_t, a_t | s_{t+1}), can be used to simulate additional trajectories terminating at states of interest! Improves RL learning efficiency.
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