Oral 1: Learning in the wild, Reinforcement learning

Moderators : Aleksandra Faust · Lin Yang

Mon 25 Apr 5 p.m. PDT — 6:30 p.m. PDT


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Mon 25 April 17:00 - 17:15 PDT

Hyperparameter Tuning with Renyi Differential Privacy

Nicolas Papernot · Thomas Steinke

For many differentially private algorithms, such as the prominent noisy stochastic gradient descent (DP-SGD), the analysis needed to bound the privacy leakage of a single training run is well understood. However, few studies have reasoned about the privacy leakage resulting from the multiple training runs needed to fine tune the value of the training algorithm’s hyperparameters. In this work, we first illustrate how simply setting hyperparameters based on non-private training runs can leak private information. Motivated by this observation, we then provide privacy guarantees for hyperparameter search procedures within the framework of Renyi Differential Privacy. Our results improve and extend the work of Liu and Talwar (STOC 2019). Our analysis supports our previous observation that tuning hyperparameters does indeed leak private information, but we prove that, under certain assumptions, this leakage is modest, as long as each candidate training run needed to select hyperparameters is itself differentially private.

Mon 25 April 17:15 - 17:30 PDT

PiCO: Contrastive Label Disambiguation for Partial Label Learning

Haobo Wang · Ruixuan Xiao · Yixuan Li · Lei Feng · Gang Niu · Gang Chen · Junbo Zhao

Partial label learning (PLL) is an important problem that allows each training example to be labeled with a coarse candidate set, which well suits many real-world data annotation scenarios with label ambiguity. Despite the promise, the performance of PLL often lags behind the supervised counterpart. In this work, we bridge the gap by addressing two key research challenges in PLL---representation learning and label disambiguation---in one coherent framework. Specifically, our proposed framework PiCO consists of a contrastive learning module along with a novel class prototype-based label disambiguation algorithm. PiCO produces closely aligned representations for examples from the same classes and facilitates label disambiguation. Theoretically, we show that these two components are mutually beneficial, and can be rigorously justified from an expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm perspective. Extensive experiments demonstrate that PiCO significantly outperforms the current state-of-the-art approaches in PLL and even achieves comparable results to fully supervised learning. Code and data available:

Mon 25 April 17:30 - 17:45 PDT

Poisoning and Backdooring Contrastive Learning

Nicholas Carlini · Andreas Terzis

Multimodal contrastive learning methods like CLIP train on noisy and uncurated training datasets. This is cheaper than labeling datasets manually, and even improves out-of-distribution robustness. We show that this practice makes backdoor and poisoning attacks a significant threat. By poisoning just 0.01% of a dataset (e.g., just 300 images of the 3 million-example Conceptual Captions dataset), we can cause the model to misclassify test images by overlaying a small patch. Targeted poisoning attacks, whereby the model misclassifies a particular test input with an adversarially-desired label, are even easier requiring control of 0.0001% of the dataset (e.g., just three out of the 3 million images). Our attacks call into question whether training on noisy and uncurated Internet scrapes is desirable.

Mon 25 April 17:45 - 18:00 PDT

Transform2Act: Learning a Transform-and-Control Policy for Efficient Agent Design

Ye Yuan · Yuda Song · Zhengyi Luo · Wen Sun · Kris Kitani

An agent's functionality is largely determined by its design, i.e., skeletal structure and joint attributes (e.g., length, size, strength). However, finding the optimal agent design for a given function is extremely challenging since the problem is inherently combinatorial and the design space is prohibitively large. Additionally, it can be costly to evaluate each candidate design which requires solving for its optimal controller. To tackle these problems, our key idea is to incorporate the design procedure of an agent into its decision-making process. Specifically, we learn a conditional policy that, in an episode, first applies a sequence of transform actions to modify an agent's skeletal structure and joint attributes, and then applies control actions under the new design. To handle a variable number of joints across designs, we use a graph-based policy where each graph node represents a joint and uses message passing with its neighbors to output joint-specific actions. Using policy gradient methods, our approach enables joint optimization of agent design and control as well as experience sharing across different designs, which improves sample efficiency substantially. Experiments show that our approach, Transform2Act, outperforms prior methods significantly in terms of convergence speed and final performance. Notably, Transform2Act can automatically discover plausible designs similar to giraffes, squids, and spiders. Code and videos are available at

Mon 25 April 18:00 - 18:15 PDT

The Information Geometry of Unsupervised Reinforcement Learning

Benjamin Eysenbach · Ruslan Salakhutdinov · Sergey Levine

How can a reinforcement learning (RL) agent prepare to solve downstream tasks if those tasks are not known a priori? One approach is unsupervised skill discovery, a class of algorithms that learn a set of policies without access to a reward function. Such algorithms bear a close resemblance to representation learning algorithms (e.g., contrastive learning) in supervised learning, in that both are pretraining algorithms that maximize some approximation to a mutual information objective. While prior work has shown that the set of skills learned by such methods can accelerate downstream RL tasks, prior work offers little analysis into whether these skill learning algorithms are optimal, or even what notion of optimality would be appropriate to apply to them. In this work, we show that unsupervised skill discovery algorithms based on mutual information maximization do not learn skills that are optimal for every possible reward function. However, we show that the distribution over skills provides an optimal initialization minimizing regret against adversarially-chosen reward functions, assuming a certain type of adaptation procedure. Our analysis also provides a geometric perspective on these skill learning methods.

Mon 25 April 18:15 - 18:30 PDT

Provably Filtering Exogenous Distractors using Multistep Inverse Dynamics

Yonathan Efroni · Dipendra Kumar Misra · Akshay Krishnamurthy · Alekh Agarwal · John Langford

Many real-world applications of reinforcement learning (RL) require the agent to deal with high-dimensional observations such as those generated from a megapixel camera. Prior work has addressed such problems with representation learning, through which the agent can provably extract endogenous, latent state information from raw observations and subsequently plan efficiently. However, such approaches can fail in the presence of temporally correlated noise in the observations, a phenomenon that is common in practice. We initiate the formal study of latent state discovery in the presence of such exogenous noise sources by proposing a new model, the Exogenous Block MDP (EX-BMDP), for rich observation RL. We start by establishing several negative results, by highlighting failure cases of prior representation learning based approaches. Then, we introduce the Predictive Path Elimination (PPE) algorithm, that learns a generalization of inverse dynamics and is provably sample and computationally efficient in EX-BMDPs when the endogenous state dynamics are near deterministic. The sample complexity of PPE depends polynomially on the size of the latent endogenous state space while not directly depending on the size of the observation space, nor the exogenous state space. We provide experiments on challenging exploration problems which show that our approach works empirically.