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COBRA: Curious Object-Based seaRch Agent

Nicholas Watters*, Loic Matthey*, Matko Bošnjak, Christopher P. Burgess, and Alexander Lerchner (DeepMind)

What it is

Researchers at DeepMind proposed a new agent COBRA, which incorporates object-based representation learning, curiosity-driven exploration, and model-based RL. COBRA is trained in two phases: the exploration phase and the task phase. In the exploration phase, the agent learns in a task-free, reward-free unsupervised learning setting. Then, in the task phase, the agent is trained on the task through model-based RL.

As shown in the diagram above, COBRA has four components: the vision module (scene encoder and decoder), the transition model, the exploration policy, and reward predictor. The first three are trained during the exploration phase and is frozen during the task phase. During the task phase, only the reward predictor is trained to solve a task.

MONet is used for the vision module, distributional RL for the exploration policy, and 1-step Model Predictive Control (MPC) for the reward predictor.

Why it matters

By using unsupervised learning with exploration to learn a object-based representation, COBRA can achieve both high data efficiency and robust policy. The second figure above shows its robustness and data efficiency.

We recommend the readers to read the Supplementary material section for a great detailed discussion on the training details, variations considered, and ablation studies.

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External Resources

MCP: Learning Composable Hierarchical Control with Multiplicative Compositional Policies

Xue Bin Peng, Michael Chang, Grace Zhang, Pieter Abbeel, Sergey Levine (UC Berkeley)

What it is & Why it matters

In a multi-task RL framework, the agent needs to learn reusable skills from “pre-training tasks” and use them in the “transfer tasks”. One way to train such agent is using a Mixture-Of-Experts (MOE) model, a Hierarchical RL method where the policy is represented as a weighted sum of a set of low-level policies (“primitives”). This “additive model” is limited to only one primitive per timestep, which could be deter the agent solving complex tasks that requires several subtasks being performed at the same time.

Researchers at UC Berkeley proposed Multiplicative Compositional Policies (MCP), a method of factoring agent’s behavior into primitives with respect to action space and enabling the agent to use multiple primitives at the same time. MCP is shown to have superior performance compared to other hierarchical models such as Option-Critic or Mixture-Of-Experts (MOE).

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Evolving Rewards to Automate Reinforcement Learning

Aleksandra Faust, Anthony Francis, Dar Mehta (Robotics at Google)

What it is

Researchers at Google Robotics automated reward search with “AutoRL”. Proposed in their preceding work “Learning Navigation Behaviors End-to-End with AutoRL,” AutoRL is an evolutionary reward search method where it finds the reward parameters that maximizes the task objective. In other words, it “treats reward tuning as hyperparameter optimization.”

Why it matters

Reward shaping has been a difficult problem in RL. Rewards could be too sparse for the algorithms to discover, or misshaped to encourage faulty behavior. For example, for the Humanoid task, we want the agent to move by walking smoothly like a human, not rolling on the ground. AutoRL is an attempt to replace this complex hand-tuning of rewards with automated reward shaping.

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