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Adversarial Cheap Talk
Chris Lu · Timon Willi · Alistair Letcher · Jakob Foerster
Event URL: https://openreview.net/forum?id=nJWFzQROsn_ »

Adversarial attacks in reinforcement learning (RL) often assume highly-privileged access to the victim’s parameters, environment, or data. Instead, this paper proposes a novel adversarial setting called a Cheap Talk MDP in which an Adversary can merely append deterministic messages to the Victim’s observation, resulting in a minimal range of influence. The Adversary cannot occlude ground truth, influence underlying environment dynamics or reward signals, introduce non-stationarity, add stochasticity, see the Victim’s actions, or access their parameters. Additionally, we present a simple meta-learning algorithm called Adversarial Cheap Talk (ACT) to train Adversaries in this setting. We demonstrate that an Adversary trained with ACT can still significantly influence the Victim’s training and testing performance, despite the highly constrained setting. Affecting train-time performance reveals a new attack vector and provides insight into the success and failure modes of existing RL algorithms. More specifically, we show that an ACT Adversary is capable of harming performance by interfering with the learner’s function approximation, or instead helping the Victim’s performance by outputting useful features. Finally, we show that an ACT Adversary can manipulate messages during train-time to directly and arbitrarily control the Victim at test-time.

Author Information

Chris Lu (University of Oxford)
Timon Willi (University of Oxford, University of Oxford)
Alistair Letcher (None)
Jakob Foerster (University of Oxford)

Jakob Foerster received a CIFAR AI chair in 2019 and is starting as an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto and the Vector Institute in the academic year 20/21. During his PhD at the University of Oxford, he helped bring deep multi-agent reinforcement learning to the forefront of AI research and interned at Google Brain, OpenAI, and DeepMind. He has since been working as a research scientist at Facebook AI Research in California, where he will continue advancing the field up to his move to Toronto. He was the lead organizer of the first Emergent Communication (EmeCom) workshop at NeurIPS in 2017, which he has helped organize ever since.

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