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Zeroth-Order Optimization Meets Human Feedback: Provable Learning via Ranking Oracles

Zhiwei Tang · Dmitry Rybin · Tsung-Hui Chang

Halle B #108
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Wed 8 May 7:30 a.m. PDT — 9:30 a.m. PDT


In this study, we delve into an emerging optimization challenge involving a black-box objective function that can only be gauged via a ranking oracle—a situation frequently encountered in real-world scenarios, especially when the function is evaluated by human judges. A prominent instance of such a situation is Reinforcement Learning with Human Feedback (RLHF), an approach recently employed to enhance the performance of Large Language Models (LLMs) using human guidance [Ouyang et al. 2022, Liu et al. 2023, OpenAI et al. 2022, Bai et al. 2022]. We introduce ZO-RankSGD, an innovative zeroth-order optimization algorithm designed to tackle this optimization problem, accompanied by theoretical assurances. Our algorithm utilizes a novel rank-based random estimator to determine the descent direction and guarantees convergence to a stationary point. Moreover, ZO-RankSGD is readily applicable to policy optimization problems in Reinforcement Learning (RL), particularly when only ranking oracles for the episode reward are available. Last but not least, we demonstrate the effectiveness of ZO-RankSGD in a novel application: improving the quality of images generated by a diffusion generative model with human ranking feedback. Throughout experiments, we found that ZO-RankSGD can significantly enhance the detail of generated images with only a few rounds of human feedback. Overall, our work advances the field of zeroth-order optimization by addressing the problem of optimizing functions with only ranking feedback, and offers a new and effective approach for aligning Artificial Intelligence (AI) with human intentions.

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