In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper

Dichotomy of Control: Separating What You Can Control from What You Cannot

Sherry Yang · Dale Schuurmans · Pieter Abbeel · Ofir Nachum

[ Abstract ] [ Livestream: Visit Oral 3 Track 1: Reinforcement Learning ]
Tue 2 May 2 a.m. — 2:10 a.m. PDT

Future- or return-conditioned supervised learning is an emerging paradigm for offline reinforcement learning (RL), in which the future outcome (i.e., return) associated with a sequence of actions in an offline dataset is used as input to a policy trained to imitate those same actions. While return-conditioning is at the heart of popular algorithms such as decision transformer (DT), these methods tend to perform poorly in highly stochastic environments, where an occasional high return associated with a sequence of actions may be due more to the randomness of the environment than to the actions themselves. Such situations can lead to a learned policy that is inconsistent with its conditioning inputs; i.e., using the policy – while conditioned on a specific desired return – to act in the environment can lead to a distribution of real returns that is wildly different than desired. In this work, we propose the dichotomy of control (DoC), a future-conditioned supervised learning framework that separates mechanisms within a policy’s control (actions) from those outside of a policy’s control (environment stochasticity). We achieve this by conditioning the policy on a latent variable representation of the future and designing a mutual information constraint that removes any future information from the latent variable that is only due to randomness of the environment. Theoretically, we show that DoC yields policies that are consistent with their conditioning inputs, ensuring that conditioning a learned policy on a desired high-return future outcome will correctly induce high-return behavior. Empirically, we show that DoC is able to achieve significantly better performance than DT on environments with highly stochastic rewards (e.g., Bandit) and transitions (e.g., FrozenLake).

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