Agent-State Construction with Auxiliary Inputs

Published: 14 May 2023, Last Modified: 14 May 2023Accepted by TMLREveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Abstract: In many, if not every realistic sequential decision-making task, the decision-making agent is not able to model the full complexity of the world. The environment is often much larger and more complex than the agent, a setting also known as partial observability. In such settings, the agent must leverage more than just the current sensory inputs; it must construct an agent state that summarizes previous interactions with the world. Currently, a popular approach for tackling this problem is to learn the agent-state function via a recurrent network from the agent's sensory stream as input. Many impressive reinforcement learning applications have instead relied on environment-specific functions to aid the agent's inputs for history summarization. These augmentations are done in multiple ways, from simple approaches like concatenating observations to more complex ones such as uncertainty estimates. Although ubiquitous in the field, these additional inputs, which we term auxiliary inputs, are rarely emphasized, and it is not clear what their role or impact is. In this work we explore this idea further, and relate these auxiliary inputs to prior classic approaches to state construction. We present a series of examples illustrating the different ways of using auxiliary inputs for reinforcement learning. We show that these auxiliary inputs can be used to discriminate between observations that would otherwise be aliased, leading to more expressive features that smoothly interpolate between different states. Finally, we show that this approach is complementary to state-of-the-art methods such as recurrent neural networks and truncated back-propagation through time, and acts as a heuristic that facilitates longer temporal credit assignment, leading to better performance.
License: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Submission Length: Regular submission (no more than 12 pages of main content)
Changes Since Last Submission: Camera-ready edits.
Assigned Action Editor: ~Dinesh_Jayaraman2
Submission Number: 599