Invited Talk
Learning State Representations
Yael Niv

Thu Dec 7th 09:00 -- 09:50 AM @ Hall A

On the face of it, most real-world world tasks are hopelessly complex from the point of view of reinforcement learning mechanisms. In particular, due to the ”curse of dimensionality”, even the simple task of crossing the street should, in principle, take thousands of trials to learn to master. But we are better than that.. How does our brain do it? In this talk, I will argue that the hardest part of learning is not assigning values or learning policies, but rather deciding on the boundaries of similarity between experiences, which define the ”states” that we learn about. I will show behavioral evidence that humans and animals are constantly engaged in this representation learning process, and suggest that in a not too far future, we may be able to read out these representations from the brain, and therefore find out how the brain has mastered this complex problem. I will formalize the problem of learning a state representation in terms of Bayesian inference with infinite capacity models, and suggest that an understanding of the computational problem of representation learning can lead to insights into the machine learning problem of transfer learning, and psychological/neuroscientific questions about the interplay between memory and learning.

Author Information

Yael Niv (Princeton University)

Yael Niv received her MA in psychobiology from Tel Aviv University and her PhD from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, having conducted a major part of her thesis research at the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit in UCL. After a short postdoc at Princeton she became faculty at the Psychology Department and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Her lab's research focuses on the neural and computational processes underlying reinforcement learning and decision-making in humans and animals, with a particular focus on representation learning. She recently co-founded the Rutgers-Princeton Center for Computational Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, and is currently taking the research in her lab in the direction of computational psychiatry.

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