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Workshop: Foundation Models for Decision Making

$\mathcal{B}$-Coder: On Value-Based Deep Reinforcement Learning for Program Synthesis

Zishun Yu · Yunzhe Tao · Liyu Chen · Tao Sun · Hongxia Yang

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

Abstract: Program synthesis aims to create accurate, executable code from natural language descriptions. This field has leveraged the power of reinforcement learning (RL) in conjunction with large language models (LLMs), significantly enhancing code generation capabilities. This integration focuses on directly optimizing functional correctness, transcending conventional supervised losses. While current literature predominantly favors policy-based algorithms, attributes of program synthesis suggest a natural compatibility with value-based methods. This stems from rich collection of off-policy programs developed by human programmers, and the straightforward verification of generated programs through automated unit testing (i.e. easily obtainable rewards in RL language). Diverging from the predominant use of policy-based algorithms, our work explores the applicability of value-based approaches, leading to the development of our $\mathcal{B}$-Coder (pronounced Bellman coder). Yet, training value-based methods presents challenges due to the enormous search space inherent to program synthesis. To this end, we propose an initialization protocol for RL agents utilizing pre-trained LMs and a conservative Bellman operator to reduce training complexities. Moreover, we demonstrate how to leverage the learned value functions as a dual strategy to post-process generated programs. Our empirical evaluations demonstrated $\mathcal{B}$-Coder's capability in achieving state-of-the-art performance compared with policy-based methods. Remarkably, this achievement is reached with minimal reward engineering effort, highlighting the effectiveness of value-based RL, independent of reward designs.

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