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Workshop: Foundation Models for Decision Making

Vision-Language Models are Zero-Shot Reward Models for Reinforcement Learning

Juan Rocamonde · Victoriano Montesinos · Elvis Nava · Ethan Perez · David Lindner

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presentation: Foundation Models for Decision Making
Fri 15 Dec 6:15 a.m. PST — 3:30 p.m. PST


Reinforcement learning (RL) requires either manually specifying a reward function, which is often infeasible, or learning a reward model from a large amount of human feedback, which is often very expensive. We study a more sample-efficient alternative: using pretrained vision-language models (VLMs) as zeroshot reward models (RMs) to specify tasks via natural language. We propose a natural and general approach to using VLMs as reward models, which we call VLM-RMs. We use VLM-RMs based on CLIP to train a MuJoCo humanoid to learn complex tasks without a manually specified reward function, such as kneeling, doing the splits, and sitting in a lotus position. For each of these tasks, we only provide a single sentence text prompt describing the desired task with minimal prompt engineering. We provide videos of the trained agents at: We can improve performance by providing a second “baseline” prompt and projecting out parts of the CLIP embedding space irrelevant to distinguish between goal and baseline. Further, we find a strong scaling effect for VLM-RMs: larger VLMs trained with more compute and data are better reward models. The failure modes of VLM-RMs we encountered are all related to known capability limitations of current VLMs, such as limited spatial reasoning ability or visually unrealistic environments that are far off-distribution for the VLM. We find that VLM-RMs are remarkably robust as long as the VLM is large enough. This suggests that future VLMs will become more and more useful reward models for a wide range of RL applications.

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