Discovering Temporally-Aware Reinforcement Learning Algorithms

Published: 28 Oct 2023, Last Modified: 14 Dec 2023ALOE 2023 PosterEveryoneRevisionsBibTeX
Keywords: Reinforcement Learning, Meta-Learning, Meta-RL, Meta-Optimization, Policy Meta-Optimization, Learned Objective Functions
TL;DR: Conditioning learned optimizers on agent lifetime leads to an adaptive update and improves generalization performance.
Abstract: Recent advancements in meta-learning have enabled the automatic discovery of novel reinforcement learning algorithms parameterized by surrogate objective functions. To improve upon manually designed algorithms, the parameterization of this learned objective function must be expressive enough to represent novel principles of learning (instead of merely recovering already established ones) while still generalizing to a wide range of settings outside of its meta-training distribution. However, existing methods focus on discovering objective functions that, like many widely used objective functions in reinforcement learning, do not take into account the total number of steps allowed for training, or “training horizon”. In contrast, humans use a plethora of different learning objectives across the course of acquiring a new ability. For instance, students may alter their studying techniques based on the proximity to exam deadlines and their self-assessed capabilities. This paper contends that ignoring the optimization time horizon significantly restricts the expressive potential of discovered learning algorithms. We propose a simple augmentation to two existing objective discovery approaches that allows the discovered algorithm to dynamically update its objective function throughout the agent’s training procedure, resulting in expressive schedules and increased generalization across different training horizons. In the process, we find that commonly used meta-gradient approaches fail to discover such adaptive objective functions while evolution strategies discover highly dynamic learning rules. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach on a wide range of tasks and analyze the resulting learned algorithms, which we find effectively balance exploration and exploitation by modifying the structure of their learning rules throughout the agent’s lifetime.
Submission Number: 23