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Learning Synthetic Environments and Reward Networks for Reinforcement Learning

Fabio Ferreira · Thomas Nierhoff · Andreas Sälinger · Frank Hutter

Keywords: [ reinforcement learning ] [ reward shaping ] [ evolution strategies ] [ meta-learning ]


We introduce Synthetic Environments (SEs) and Reward Networks (RNs), represented by neural networks, as proxy environment models for training Reinforcement Learning (RL) agents. We show that an agent, after being trained exclusively on the SE, is able to solve the corresponding real environment. While an SE acts as a full proxy to a real environment by learning about its state dynamics and rewards, an RN is a partial proxy that learns to augment or replace rewards. We use bi-level optimization to evolve SEs and RNs: the inner loop trains the RL agent, and the outer loop trains the parameters of the SE / RN via an evolution strategy. We evaluate our proposed new concept on a broad range of RL algorithms and classic control environments. In a one-to-one comparison, learning an SE proxy requires more interactions with the real environment than training agents only on the real environment. However, once such an SE has been learned, we do not need any interactions with the real environment to train new agents. Moreover, the learned SE proxies allow us to train agents with fewer interactions while maintaining the original task performance. Our empirical results suggest that SEs achieve this result by learning informed representations that bias the agents towards relevant states. Moreover, we find that these proxies are robust against hyperparameter variation and can also transfer to unseen agents.

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