Recall Traces: Backtracking Models for Efficient Reinforcement Learning

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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