Oral 1 Track 5: Reinforcement Learning



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Mon 1 May 1:00 - 1:10 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
DEP-RL: Embodied Exploration for Reinforcement Learning in Overactuated and Musculoskeletal Systems

Pierre Schumacher · Daniel Haeufle · Dieter Büchler · Syn Schmitt · Georg Martius

Muscle-actuated organisms are capable of learning an unparalleled diversity of dexterous movements despite their vast amount of muscles. Reinforcement learning (RL) on large musculoskeletal models, however, has not been able to show similar performance. We conjecture that ineffective exploration in large overactuated action spaces is a key problem.This is supported by the finding that common exploration noise strategies are inadequate in synthetic examples of overactuated systems. We identify differential extrinsic plasticity (DEP), a method from the domain of self-organization, as being able to induce state-space covering exploration within seconds of interaction. By integrating DEP into RL, we achieve fast learning of reaching and locomotion in musculoskeletal systems, outperforming current approaches in all considered tasks in sample efficiency and robustness.

Mon 1 May 1:10 - 1:20 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
The In-Sample Softmax for Offline Reinforcement Learning

Chenjun Xiao · Han Wang · Yangchen Pan · Adam White · Martha White

Reinforcement learning (RL) agents can leverage batches of previously collected data to extract a reasonable control policy. An emerging issue in this offline RL setting, however, is that the bootstrapping update underlying many of our methods suffers from insufficient action-coverage: standard max operator may select a maximal action that has not been seen in the dataset. Bootstrapping from these inaccurate values can lead to overestimation and even divergence. There are a growing number of methods that attempt to approximate an in-sample max, that only uses actions well-covered by the dataset. We highlight a simple fact: it is more straightforward to approximate an in-sample softmax using only actions in the dataset. We show that policy iteration based on the in-sample softmax converges, and that for decreasing temperatures it approaches the in-sample max. We derive an In-Sample Actor-Critic (AC), using this in-sample softmax, and show that it is consistently better or comparable to existing offline RL methods, and is also well-suited to fine-tuning. We release the code at

Mon 1 May 1:20 - 1:30 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Outstanding Paper
Emergence of Maps in the Memories of Blind Navigation Agents

Erik Wijmans · Manolis Savva · Irfan Essa · Stefan Lee · Ari Morcos · Dhruv Batra

Animal navigation research posits that organisms build and maintain internal spa- tial representations, or maps, of their environment. We ask if machines – specifically, artificial intelligence (AI) navigation agents – also build implicit (or ‘mental’) maps. A positive answer to this question would (a) explain the surprising phenomenon in recent literature of ostensibly map-free neural-networks achieving strong performance, and (b) strengthen the evidence of mapping as a fundamental mechanism for navigation by intelligent embodied agents, whether they be biological or artificial. Unlike animal navigation, we can judiciously design the agent’s perceptual system and control the learning paradigm to nullify alternative navigation mechanisms. Specifically, we train ‘blind’ agents – with sensing limited to only egomotion and no other sensing of any kind – to perform PointGoal navigation (‘go to $\Delta$x, $\Delta$y’) via reinforcement learning. Our agents are composed of navigation-agnostic components (fully-connected and recurrent neural networks), and our experimental setup provides no inductive bias towards mapping. Despite these harsh conditions, we find that blind agents are (1) surprisingly effective navigators in new environments (∼95% success); (2) they utilize memory over long horizons (remembering ∼1,000 steps of past experience in an episode); (3) this memory enables them to exhibit intelligent behavior (following walls, detecting collisions, taking shortcuts); (4) there is emergence of maps and collision detection neurons in the representations of the environment built by a blind agent as it navigates; and (5) the emergent maps are selective and task dependent (e.g. the agent ‘forgets’ exploratory detours). Overall, this paper presents no new techniques for the AI audience, but a surprising finding, an insight, and an explanation.

Mon 1 May 1:30 - 1:40 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Does Zero-Shot Reinforcement Learning Exist?

Ahmed Touati · Jérémy Rapin · Yann Ollivier

A zero-shot RL agent is an agent that can solve any RL task in a given environment, instantly with no additional planning or learning, after an initial reward-free learning phase. This marks a shift from the reward-centric RL paradigm towards controllable agents that can follow arbitrary instructions in an environment. Current RL agents can solve families of related tasks at best, or require planning anew for each task. Strategies for approximate zero-shot RL have been suggested using successor features (SFs) (Borsa et al., 2018) or forward-backward (FB) representations (Touati & Ollivier, 2021), but testing has been limited. After clarifying the relationships between these schemes, we introduce improved losses and new SF models, and test the viability of zero-shot RL schemes systematically on tasks from the Unsupervised RL benchmark (Laskin et al., 2021). To disentangle universal representation learning from exploration, we work in an offline setting and repeat the tests on several existing replay buffers.SFs appear to suffer from the choice of the elementary state features. SFs with Laplacian eigenfunctions do well, while SFs based on auto-encoders, inverse curiosity, transition models, low-rank transition matrix, contrastive learning, or diversity (APS), perform unconsistently. In contrast, FB representations jointly learn the elementary and successor features from a single, principled criterion. They perform best and consistently across the board, reaching $85\%$ of supervised RL performance with a good replay buffer, in a zero-shot manner.

Mon 1 May 1:40 - 1:50 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
Learning Soft Constraints From Constrained Expert Demonstrations

Ashish Gaurav · Kasra Rezaee · Guiliang Liu · Pascal Poupart

Inverse reinforcement learning (IRL) methods assume that the expert data is generated by an agent optimizing some reward function. However, in many settings, the agent may optimize a reward function subject to some constraints, where the constraints induce behaviors that may be otherwise difficult to express with just a reward function. We consider the setting where the reward function is given, and the constraints are unknown, and propose a method that is able to recover these constraints satisfactorily from the expert data. While previous work has focused on recovering hard constraints, our method can recover cumulative soft constraints that the agent satisfies on average per episode. In IRL fashion, our method solves this problem by adjusting the constraint function iteratively through a constrained optimization procedure, until the agent behavior matches the expert behavior. We demonstrate our approach on synthetic environments, robotics environments and real world highway driving scenarios.

Mon 1 May 1:50 - 2:00 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 5% paper
Offline Q-learning on Diverse Multi-Task Data Both Scales And Generalizes

Aviral Kumar · Rishabh Agarwal · Xinyang Geng · George Tucker · Sergey Levine

The potential of offline reinforcement learning (RL) is that high-capacity models trained on large, heterogeneous datasets can lead to agents that generalize broadly, analogously to similar advances in vision and NLP. However, recent works argue that offline RL methods encounter unique challenges to scaling up model capacity. Drawing on the learnings from these works, we re-examine previous design choices and find that with appropriate choices: ResNets, cross-entropy based distributional backups, and feature normalization, offline Q-learning algorithms exhibit strong performance that scales with model capacity. Using multi-task Atari as a testbed for scaling and generalization, we train a single policy on 40 games with near-human performance using up-to 80 million parameter networks, finding that model performance scales favorably with capacity. In contrast to prior work, we extrapolate beyond dataset performance even when trained entirely on a large (400M transitions) but highly suboptimal dataset (51% human-level performance). Compared to return-conditioned supervised approaches, offline Q-learning scales similarly with model capacity and has better performance, especially when the dataset is suboptimal. Finally, we show that offline Q-learning with a diverse dataset is sufficient to learn powerful representations that facilitate rapid transfer to novel games and fast online learning on new variations of a training game, improving over existing state-of-the-art representation learning approaches.

Mon 1 May 2:00 - 2:10 PDT

In-Person Oral presentation / top 25% paper
VIP: Towards Universal Visual Reward and Representation via Value-Implicit Pre-Training

Yecheng Jason Ma · Shagun Sodhani · Dinesh Jayaraman · Osbert Bastani · Vikash Kumar · Amy Zhang

Reward and representation learning are two long-standing challenges for learning an expanding set of robot manipulation skills from sensory observations. Given the inherent cost and scarcity of in-domain, task-specific robot data, learning from large, diverse, offline human videos has emerged as a promising path towards acquiring a generally useful visual representation for control; however, how these human videos can be used for general-purpose reward learning remains an open question. We introduce $\textbf{V}$alue-$\textbf{I}$mplicit $\textbf{P}$re-training (VIP), a self-supervised pre-trained visual representation capable of generating dense and smooth reward functions for unseen robotic tasks. VIP casts representation learning from human videos as an offline goal-conditioned reinforcement learning problem and derives a self-supervised dual goal-conditioned value-function objective that does not depend on actions, enabling pre-training on unlabeled human videos. Theoretically, VIP can be understood as a novel implicit time contrastive objective that generates a temporally smooth embedding, enabling the value function to be implicitly defined via the embedding distance, which can then be used to construct the reward for any goal-image specified downstream task. Trained on large-scale Ego4D human videos and without any fine-tuning on in-domain, task-specific data, VIP can provide dense visual reward for an extensive set of simulated and $\textbf{real-robot}$ tasks, enabling diverse reward-based visual control methods and significantly outperforming all prior pre-trained representations. Notably, VIP can enable simple, few-shot offline RL on a suite of real-world robot tasks with as few as 20 trajectories.