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Learning Subgoal Representations with Slow Dynamics

Siyuan Li · Lulu Zheng · Jianhao Wang · Chongjie Zhang

Keywords: [ exploration ] [ hierarchical reinforcement learning ] [ representation learning ]


In goal-conditioned Hierarchical Reinforcement Learning (HRL), a high-level policy periodically sets subgoals for a low-level policy, and the low-level policy is trained to reach those subgoals. A proper subgoal representation function, which abstracts a state space to a latent subgoal space, is crucial for effective goal-conditioned HRL, since different low-level behaviors are induced by reaching subgoals in the compressed representation space. Observing that the high-level agent operates at an abstract temporal scale, we propose a slowness objective to effectively learn the subgoal representation (i.e., the high-level action space). We provide a theoretical grounding for the slowness objective. That is, selecting slow features as the subgoal space can achieve efficient hierarchical exploration. As a result of better exploration ability, our approach significantly outperforms state-of-the-art HRL and exploration methods on a number of benchmark continuous-control tasks. Thanks to the generality of the proposed subgoal representation learning method, empirical results also demonstrate that the learned representation and corresponding low-level policies can be transferred between distinct tasks.

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