Fast And Slow Learning Of Recurrent Independent Mechanisms

Kanika Madan · Nan Rosemary Ke · Anirudh Goyal · Bernhard Schoelkopf · Yoshua Bengio

Keywords: [ learning mechanisms ] [ better generalization ] [ modular representations ]

[ Abstract ]
[ Paper ]
Wed 5 May 5 p.m. PDT — 7 p.m. PDT


Decomposing knowledge into interchangeable pieces promises a generalization advantage when there are changes in distribution. A learning agent interacting with its environment is likely to be faced with situations requiring novel combinations of existing pieces of knowledge. We hypothesize that such a decomposition of knowledge is particularly relevant for being able to generalize in a systematic way to out-of-distribution changes. To study these ideas, we propose a particular training framework in which we assume that the pieces of knowledge an agent needs and its reward function are stationary and can be re-used across tasks. An attention mechanism dynamically selects which modules can be adapted to the current task, and the parameters of the \textit{selected} modules are allowed to change quickly as the learner is confronted with variations in what it experiences, while the parameters of the attention mechanisms act as stable, slowly changing, meta-parameters. We focus on pieces of knowledge captured by an ensemble of modules sparsely communicating with each other via a bottleneck of attention. We find that meta-learning the modular aspects of the proposed system greatly helps in achieving faster adaptation in a reinforcement learning setup involving navigation in a partially observed grid world with image-level input. We also find that reversing the role of parameters and meta-parameters does not work nearly as well, suggesting a particular role for fast adaptation of the dynamically selected modules.

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