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On the Effectiveness of Fine-tuning Versus Meta-reinforcement Learning
Mandi Zhao · Pieter Abbeel · Stephen James

Thu Dec 01 02:00 PM -- 04:00 PM (PST) @ Hall J #608

Intelligent agents should have the ability to leverage knowledge from previously learned tasks in order to learn new ones quickly and efficiently. Meta-learning approaches have emerged as a popular solution to achieve this. However, meta-reinforcement learning (meta-RL) algorithms have thus far been restricted to simple environments with narrow task distributions and have seen limited success. Moreover, the paradigm of pretraining followed by fine-tuning to adapt to new tasks has emerged as a simple yet effective solution in supervised learning. This calls into question the benefits of meta learning approaches also in reinforcement learning, which typically come at the cost of high complexity. We therefore investigate meta-RL approaches in a variety of vision-based benchmarks, including Procgen, RLBench, and Atari, where evaluations are made on completely novel tasks. Our findings show that when meta-learning approaches are evaluated on different tasks (rather than different variations of the same task), multi-task pretraining with fine-tuning on new tasks performs equally as well, or better, than meta-pretraining with meta test-time adaptation. This is encouraging for future research, as multi-task pretraining tends to be simpler and computationally cheaper than meta-RL. From these findings, we advocate for evaluating future meta-RL methods on more challenging tasks and including multi-task pretraining with fine-tuning as a simple, yet strong baseline.

Author Information

Mandi Zhao (University of California, Berkeley)
Pieter Abbeel (UC Berkeley & Covariant)

Pieter Abbeel is Professor and Director of the Robot Learning Lab at UC Berkeley [2008- ], Co-Director of the Berkeley AI Research (BAIR) Lab, Co-Founder of covariant.ai [2017- ], Co-Founder of Gradescope [2014- ], Advisor to OpenAI, Founding Faculty Partner AI@TheHouse venture fund, Advisor to many AI/Robotics start-ups. He works in machine learning and robotics. In particular his research focuses on making robots learn from people (apprenticeship learning), how to make robots learn through their own trial and error (reinforcement learning), and how to speed up skill acquisition through learning-to-learn (meta-learning). His robots have learned advanced helicopter aerobatics, knot-tying, basic assembly, organizing laundry, locomotion, and vision-based robotic manipulation. He has won numerous awards, including best paper awards at ICML, NIPS and ICRA, early career awards from NSF, Darpa, ONR, AFOSR, Sloan, TR35, IEEE, and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). Pieter's work is frequently featured in the popular press, including New York Times, BBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Forbes, Tech Review, NPR.

Stephen James (Dyson)

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