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Abstract: Sequence generation models are commonly refined with reinforcement learning over user-defined metrics. However, high gradient variance hinders the practical use of this method. To stabilize this method, we adapt to contextual generation of categorical sequences a policy gradient estimator, which evaluates a set of correlated Monte Carlo (MC) rollouts for variance control. Due to the correlation, the number of unique rollouts is random and adaptive to model uncertainty; those rollouts naturally become baselines for each other, and hence are combined to effectively reduce gradient variance. We also demonstrate the use of correlated MC rollouts for binary-tree softmax models, which reduce the high generation cost in large vocabulary scenarios by decomposing each categorical action into a sequence of binary actions. We evaluate our methods on both neural program synthesis and image captioning. The proposed methods yield lower gradient variance and consistent improvement over related baselines.
Keywords: binary softmax, discrete variables, policy gradient, pseudo actions, reinforcement learning, variance reduction