A teacher-student framework to distill future trajectories

Alexander Neitz · Giambattista Parascandolo · Bernhard Schoelkopf

Keywords: [ privileged information ] [ meta-learning ]


By learning to predict trajectories of dynamical systems, model-based methods can make extensive use of all observations from past experience. However, due to partial observability, stochasticity, compounding errors, and irrelevant dynamics, training to predict observations explicitly often results in poor models. Model-free techniques try to side-step the problem by learning to predict values directly. While breaking the explicit dependency on future observations can result in strong performance, this usually comes at the cost of low sample efficiency, as the abundant information about the dynamics contained in future observations goes unused. Here we take a step back from both approaches: Instead of hand-designing how trajectories should be incorporated, a teacher network learns to interpret the trajectories and to provide target activations which guide a student model that can only observe the present. The teacher is trained with meta-gradients to maximize the student's performance on a validation set. We show that our approach performs well on tasks that are difficult for model-free and model-based methods, and we study the role of every component through ablation studies.

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