Oral Session 5: Reinforcement Learning and Planning

Moderator: Chelsea Finn

Fri 10 Dec 4 p.m. PST — 5 p.m. PST


Chat is not available.

Fri 10 Dec. 16:00 - 16:15 PST

Interesting Object, Curious Agent: Learning Task-Agnostic Exploration

Simone Parisi · Victoria Dean · Deepak Pathak · Abhinav Gupta

Common approaches for task-agnostic exploration learn tabula-rasa --the agent assumes isolated environments and no prior knowledge or experience. However, in the real world, agents learn in many environments and always come with prior experiences as they explore new ones. Exploration is a lifelong process. In this paper, we propose a paradigm change in the formulation and evaluation of task-agnostic exploration. In this setup, the agent first learns to explore across many environments without any extrinsic goal in a task-agnostic manner.Later on, the agent effectively transfers the learned exploration policy to better explore new environments when solving tasks. In this context, we evaluate several baseline exploration strategies and present a simple yet effective approach to learning task-agnostic exploration policies. Our key idea is that there are two components of exploration: (1) an agent-centric component encouraging exploration of unseen parts of the environment based on an agent’s belief; (2) an environment-centric component encouraging exploration of inherently interesting objects. We show that our formulation is effective and provides the most consistent exploration across several training-testing environment pairs. We also introduce benchmarks and metrics for evaluating task-agnostic exploration strategies. The source code is available at

Fri 10 Dec. 16:15 - 16:20 PST


Fri 10 Dec. 16:20 - 16:35 PST

Replacing Rewards with Examples: Example-Based Policy Search via Recursive Classification

Ben Eysenbach · Sergey Levine · Russ Salakhutdinov

Reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms assume that users specify tasks by manually writing down a reward function. However, this process can be laborious and demands considerable technical expertise. Can we devise RL algorithms that instead enable users to specify tasks simply by providing examples of successful outcomes? In this paper, we derive a control algorithm that maximizes the future probability of these successful outcome examples. Prior work has approached similar problems with a two-stage process, first learning a reward function and then optimizing this reward function using another reinforcement learning algorithm. In contrast, our method directly learns a value function from transitions and successful outcomes, without learning this intermediate reward function. Our method therefore requires fewer hyperparameters to tune and lines of code to debug. We show that our method satisfies a new data-driven Bellman equation, where examples take the place of the typical reward function term. Experiments show that our approach outperforms prior methods that learn explicit reward functions.

Fri 10 Dec. 16:35 - 16:40 PST


Fri 10 Dec. 16:40 - 16:55 PST

Sequential Causal Imitation Learning with Unobserved Confounders

Daniel Kumor · Junzhe Zhang · Elias Bareinboim

"Monkey see monkey do" is an age-old adage, referring to naive imitation without a deep understanding of a system's underlying mechanics. Indeed, if a demonstrator has access to information unavailable to the imitator (monkey), such as a different set of sensors, then no matter how perfectly the imitator models its perceived environment (See), attempting to directly reproduce the demonstrator's behavior (Do) can lead to poor outcomes. Imitation learning in the presence of a mismatch between demonstrator and imitator has been studied in the literature under the rubric of causal imitation learning (Zhang et. al. 2020), but existing solutions are limited to single-stage decision-making. This paper investigates the problem of causal imitation learning in sequential settings, where the imitator must make multiple decisions per episode. We develop a graphical criterion that is both necessary and sufficient for determining the feasibility of causal imitation, providing conditions when an imitator can match a demonstrator's performance despite differing capabilities. Finally, we provide an efficient algorithm for determining imitability, and corroborate our theory with simulations.

Fri 10 Dec. 16:55 - 17:00 PST