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Understanding and Preventing Capacity Loss in Reinforcement Learning

Clare Lyle · Mark Rowland · Will Dabney

Keywords: [ reinforcement learning ] [ representation learning ]


The reinforcement learning (RL) problem is rife with sources of non-stationarity that can destabilize or inhibit learning progress.We identify a key mechanism by which this occurs in agents using neural networks as function approximators: \textit{capacity loss}, whereby networks trained to predict a sequence of target values lose their ability to quickly fit new functions over time.We demonstrate that capacity loss occurs in a broad range of RL agents and environments, and is particularly damaging to learning progress in sparse-reward tasks. We then present a simple regularizer, Initial Feature Regularization (InFeR), that mitigates this phenomenon by regressing a subspace of features towards its value at initialization, improving performance over a state-of-the-art model-free algorithm in the Atari 2600 suite. Finally, we study how this regularization affects different notions of capacity and evaluate other mechanisms by which it may improve performance.

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