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On the role of planning in model-based deep reinforcement learning

Jessica Hamrick · Abram Friesen · Feryal Behbahani · Arthur Guez · Fabio Viola · Sims Witherspoon · Thomas Anthony · Lars Buesing · Petar Veličković · Theophane Weber

Keywords: [ MuZero ] [ model-based RL ] [ planning ]


Model-based planning is often thought to be necessary for deep, careful reasoning and generalization in artificial agents. While recent successes of model-based reinforcement learning (MBRL) with deep function approximation have strengthened this hypothesis, the resulting diversity of model-based methods has also made it difficult to track which components drive success and why. In this paper, we seek to disentangle the contributions of recent methods by focusing on three questions: (1) How does planning benefit MBRL agents? (2) Within planning, what choices drive performance? (3) To what extent does planning improve generalization? To answer these questions, we study the performance of MuZero (Schrittwieser et al., 2019), a state-of-the-art MBRL algorithm with strong connections and overlapping components with many other MBRL algorithms. We perform a number of interventions and ablations of MuZero across a wide range of environments, including control tasks, Atari, and 9x9 Go. Our results suggest the following: (1) Planning is most useful in the learning process, both for policy updates and for providing a more useful data distribution. (2) Using shallow trees with simple Monte-Carlo rollouts is as performant as more complex methods, except in the most difficult reasoning tasks. (3) Planning alone is insufficient to drive strong generalization. These results indicate where and how to utilize planning in reinforcement learning settings, and highlight a number of open questions for future MBRL research.

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