We present an off-policy actor-critic algorithm for Reinforcement Learning (RL) that combines ideas from gradient-free optimization via stochastic search with learned action-value function. The result is a simple procedure consisting of three steps: i) policy evaluation by estimating a parametric action-value function; ii) policy improvement via the estimation of a local non-parametric policy; and iii) generalization by fitting a parametric policy. Each step can be implemented in different ways, giving rise to several algorithm variants. Our algorithm draws on connections to existing literature on black-box optimization and 'RL as an inference' and it can be seen either as an extension of the Maximum a Posteriori Policy Optimisation algorithm (MPO) [Abdolmaleki et al., 2018a], or as an extension of Trust Region Covariance Matrix Adaptation Evolutionary Strategy (CMA-ES) [Abdolmaleki et al., 2017b; Hansen et al., 1997] to a policy iteration scheme. Our comparison on 31 continuous control tasks from parkour suite [Heess et al., 2017], DeepMind control suite [Tassa et al., 2018] and OpenAI Gym [Brockman et al., 2016] with diverse properties, limited amount of compute and a single set of hyperparameters, demonstrate the effectiveness of our method and the state of art results. Videos, summarizing results, can be found at goo.gl/HtvJKR .

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We propose to learn a kernel-based message operator which takes as input all expectation propagation (EP) incoming messages to a factor node and produces an outgoing message. In ordinary EP, computing an outgoing message involves estimating a multivariate integral which may not have an analytic expression. Learning such an operator allows one to bypass the expensive computation of the integral during inference by directly mapping all incoming messages into an outgoing message. The operator can be learned from training data (examples of input and output messages) which allows automated inference to be made on any kind of factor that can be sampled.

* Accepted to Advances in Variational Inference, NIPS 2014 Workshop
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We propose an extension of the Restricted Boltzmann Machine (RBM) that allows the joint shape and appearance of foreground objects in cluttered images to be modeled independently of the background. We present a learning scheme that learns this representation directly from cluttered images with only very weak supervision. The model generates plausible samples and performs foreground-background segmentation. We demonstrate that representing foreground objects independently of the background can be beneficial in recognition tasks.

* International Conference on Artificial Neural Networks (2011)
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Stochastic computation graphs (SCGs) provide a formalism to represent structured optimization problems arising in artificial intelligence, including supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning. Previous work has shown that an unbiased estimator of the gradient of the expected loss of SCGs can be derived from a single principle. However, this estimator often has high variance and requires a full model evaluation per data point, making this algorithm costly in large graphs. In this work, we address these problems by generalizing concepts from the reinforcement learning literature. We introduce the concepts of value functions, baselines and critics for arbitrary SCGs, and show how to use them to derive lower-variance gradient estimates from partial model evaluations, paving the way towards general and efficient credit assignment for gradient-based optimization. In doing so, we demonstrate how our results unify recent advances in the probabilistic inference and reinforcement learning literature.

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We propose ThalNet, a deep learning model inspired by neocortical communication via the thalamus. Our model consists of recurrent neural modules that send features through a routing center, endowing the modules with the flexibility to share features over multiple time steps. We show that our model learns to route information hierarchically, processing input data by a chain of modules. We observe common architectures, such as feed forward neural networks and skip connections, emerging as special cases of our architecture, while novel connectivity patterns are learned for the text8 compression task. Our model outperforms standard recurrent neural networks on several sequential benchmarks.

* NIPS 2017
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In a variety of problems originating in supervised, unsupervised, and reinforcement learning, the loss function is defined by an expectation over a collection of random variables, which might be part of a probabilistic model or the external world. Estimating the gradient of this loss function, using samples, lies at the core of gradient-based learning algorithms for these problems. We introduce the formalism of stochastic computation graphs---directed acyclic graphs that include both deterministic functions and conditional probability distributions---and describe how to easily and automatically derive an unbiased estimator of the loss function's gradient. The resulting algorithm for computing the gradient estimator is a simple modification of the standard backpropagation algorithm. The generic scheme we propose unifies estimators derived in variety of prior work, along with variance-reduction techniques therein. It could assist researchers in developing intricate models involving a combination of stochastic and deterministic operations, enabling, for example, attention, memory, and control actions.

* Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 28 (NIPS 2015)
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Applying convolutional neural networks to large images is computationally expensive because the amount of computation scales linearly with the number of image pixels. We present a novel recurrent neural network model that is capable of extracting information from an image or video by adaptively selecting a sequence of regions or locations and only processing the selected regions at high resolution. Like convolutional neural networks, the proposed model has a degree of translation invariance built-in, but the amount of computation it performs can be controlled independently of the input image size. While the model is non-differentiable, it can be trained using reinforcement learning methods to learn task-specific policies. We evaluate our model on several image classification tasks, where it significantly outperforms a convolutional neural network baseline on cluttered images, and on a dynamic visual control problem, where it learns to track a simple object without an explicit training signal for doing so.

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Deep reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms have made great strides in recent years. An important remaining challenge is the ability to quickly transfer existing skills to novel tasks, and to combine existing skills with newly acquired ones. In domains where tasks are solved by composing skills this capacity holds the promise of dramatically reducing the data requirements of deep RL algorithms, and hence increasing their applicability. Recent work has studied ways of composing behaviors represented in the form of action-value functions. We analyze these methods to highlight their strengths and weaknesses, and point out situations where each of them is susceptible to poor performance. To perform this analysis we extend generalized policy improvement to the max-entropy framework and introduce a method for the practical implementation of successor features in continuous action spaces. Then we propose a novel approach which, in principle, recovers the optimal policy during transfer. This method works by explicitly learning the (discounted, future) divergence between policies. We study this approach in the tabular case and propose a scalable variant that is applicable in multi-dimensional continuous action spaces. We compare our approach with existing ones on a range of non-trivial continuous control problems with compositional structure, and demonstrate qualitatively better performance despite not requiring simultaneous observation of all task rewards.

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Partially observed control problems are a challenging aspect of reinforcement learning. We extend two related, model-free algorithms for continuous control -- deterministic policy gradient and stochastic value gradient -- to solve partially observed domains using recurrent neural networks trained with backpropagation through time. We demonstrate that this approach, coupled with long-short term memory is able to solve a variety of physical control problems exhibiting an assortment of memory requirements. These include the short-term integration of information from noisy sensors and the identification of system parameters, as well as long-term memory problems that require preserving information over many time steps. We also demonstrate success on a combined exploration and memory problem in the form of a simplified version of the well-known Morris water maze task. Finally, we show that our approach can deal with high-dimensional observations by learning directly from pixels. We find that recurrent deterministic and stochastic policies are able to learn similarly good solutions to these tasks, including the water maze where the agent must learn effective search strategies.

* NIPS Deep Reinforcement Learning Workshop 2015
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Operating directly from raw high dimensional sensory inputs like images is still a challenge for robotic control. Recently, Reinforcement Learning methods have been proposed to solve specific tasks end-to-end, from pixels to torques. However, these approaches assume the access to a specified reward which may require specialized instrumentation of the environment. Furthermore, the obtained policy and representations tend to be task specific and may not transfer well. In this work we investigate completely self-supervised learning of a general image embedding and control primitives, based on finding the shortest time to reach any state. We also introduce a new structure for the state-action value function that builds a connection between model-free and model-based methods, and improves the performance of the learning algorithm. We experimentally demonstrate these findings in three simulated robotic tasks.

* Contributed talk at Inference to Control workshop at NeurIPS2018
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Applying end-to-end learning to solve complex, interactive, pixel-driven control tasks on a robot is an unsolved problem. Deep Reinforcement Learning algorithms are too slow to achieve performance on a real robot, but their potential has been demonstrated in simulated environments. We propose using progressive networks to bridge the reality gap and transfer learned policies from simulation to the real world. The progressive net approach is a general framework that enables reuse of everything from low-level visual features to high-level policies for transfer to new tasks, enabling a compositional, yet simple, approach to building complex skills. We present an early demonstration of this approach with a number of experiments in the domain of robot manipulation that focus on bridging the reality gap. Unlike other proposed approaches, our real-world experiments demonstrate successful task learning from raw visual input on a fully actuated robot manipulator. Moreover, rather than relying on model-based trajectory optimisation, the task learning is accomplished using only deep reinforcement learning and sparse rewards.

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We study a novel architecture and training procedure for locomotion tasks. A high-frequency, low-level "spinal" network with access to proprioceptive sensors learns sensorimotor primitives by training on simple tasks. This pre-trained module is fixed and connected to a low-frequency, high-level "cortical" network, with access to all sensors, which drives behavior by modulating the inputs to the spinal network. Where a monolithic end-to-end architecture fails completely, learning with a pre-trained spinal module succeeds at multiple high-level tasks, and enables the effective exploration required to learn from sparse rewards. We test our proposed architecture on three simulated bodies: a 16-dimensional swimming snake, a 20-dimensional quadruped, and a 54-dimensional humanoid. Our results are illustrated in the accompanying video at https://youtu.be/sboPYvhpraQ

* Supplemental video available at https://youtu.be/sboPYvhpraQ
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We present a unified framework for learning continuous control policies using backpropagation. It supports stochastic control by treating stochasticity in the Bellman equation as a deterministic function of exogenous noise. The product is a spectrum of general policy gradient algorithms that range from model-free methods with value functions to model-based methods without value functions. We use learned models but only require observations from the environment in- stead of observations from model-predicted trajectories, minimizing the impact of compounded model errors. We apply these algorithms first to a toy stochastic control problem and then to several physics-based control problems in simulation. One of these variants, SVG(1), shows the effectiveness of learning models, value functions, and policies simultaneously in continuous domains.

* 13 pages, NIPS 2015
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We introduce a new algorithm for reinforcement learning called Maximum aposteriori Policy Optimisation (MPO) based on coordinate ascent on a relative entropy objective. We show that several existing methods can directly be related to our derivation. We develop two off-policy algorithms and demonstrate that they are competitive with the state-of-the-art in deep reinforcement learning. In particular, for continuous control, our method outperforms existing methods with respect to sample efficiency, premature convergence and robustness to hyperparameter settings while achieving similar or better final performance.

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Deep generative models have recently shown great promise in imitation learning for motor control. Given enough data, even supervised approaches can do one-shot imitation learning; however, they are vulnerable to cascading failures when the agent trajectory diverges from the demonstrations. Compared to purely supervised methods, Generative Adversarial Imitation Learning (GAIL) can learn more robust controllers from fewer demonstrations, but is inherently mode-seeking and more difficult to train. In this paper, we show how to combine the favourable aspects of these two approaches. The base of our model is a new type of variational autoencoder on demonstration trajectories that learns semantic policy embeddings. We show that these embeddings can be learned on a 9 DoF Jaco robot arm in reaching tasks, and then smoothly interpolated with a resulting smooth interpolation of reaching behavior. Leveraging these policy representations, we develop a new version of GAIL that (1) is much more robust than the purely-supervised controller, especially with few demonstrations, and (2) avoids mode collapse, capturing many diverse behaviors when GAIL on its own does not. We demonstrate our approach on learning diverse gaits from demonstration on a 2D biped and a 62 DoF 3D humanoid in the MuJoCo physics environment.

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Learning policies on data synthesized by models can in principle quench the thirst of reinforcement learning algorithms for large amounts of real experience, which is often costly to acquire. However, simulating plausible experience de novo is a hard problem for many complex environments, often resulting in biases for model-based policy evaluation and search. Instead of de novo synthesis of data, here we assume logged, real experience and model alternative outcomes of this experience under counterfactual actions, actions that were not actually taken. Based on this, we propose the Counterfactually-Guided Policy Search (CF-GPS) algorithm for learning policies in POMDPs from off-policy experience. It leverages structural causal models for counterfactual evaluation of arbitrary policies on individual off-policy episodes. CF-GPS can improve on vanilla model-based RL algorithms by making use of available logged data to de-bias model predictions. In contrast to off-policy algorithms based on Importance Sampling which re-weight data, CF-GPS leverages a model to explicitly consider alternative outcomes, allowing the algorithm to make better use of experience data. We find empirically that these advantages translate into improved policy evaluation and search results on a non-trivial grid-world task. Finally, we show that CF-GPS generalizes the previously proposed Guided Policy Search and that reparameterization-based algorithms such Stochastic Value Gradient can be interpreted as counterfactual methods.

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A key goal of computer vision is to recover the underlying 3D structure from 2D observations of the world. In this paper we learn strong deep generative models of 3D structures, and recover these structures from 3D and 2D images via probabilistic inference. We demonstrate high-quality samples and report log-likelihoods on several datasets, including ShapeNet [2], and establish the first benchmarks in the literature. We also show how these models and their inference networks can be trained end-to-end from 2D images. This demonstrates for the first time the feasibility of learning to infer 3D representations of the world in a purely unsupervised manner.

* Appears in Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 29 (NIPS 2016)
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This paper presents an actor-critic deep reinforcement learning agent with experience replay that is stable, sample efficient, and performs remarkably well on challenging environments, including the discrete 57-game Atari domain and several continuous control problems. To achieve this, the paper introduces several innovations, including truncated importance sampling with bias correction, stochastic dueling network architectures, and a new trust region policy optimization method.

* 20 pages. Prepared for ICLR 2017
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Many machine learning systems are built to solve the hardest examples of a particular task, which often makes them large and expensive to run---especially with respect to the easier examples, which might require much less computation. For an agent with a limited computational budget, this "one-size-fits-all" approach may result in the agent wasting valuable computation on easy examples, while not spending enough on hard examples. Rather than learning a single, fixed policy for solving all instances of a task, we introduce a metacontroller which learns to optimize a sequence of "imagined" internal simulations over predictive models of the world in order to construct a more informed, and more economical, solution. The metacontroller component is a model-free reinforcement learning agent, which decides both how many iterations of the optimization procedure to run, as well as which model to consult on each iteration. The models (which we call "experts") can be state transition models, action-value functions, or any other mechanism that provides information useful for solving the task, and can be learned on-policy or off-policy in parallel with the metacontroller. When the metacontroller, controller, and experts were trained with "interaction networks" (Battaglia et al., 2016) as expert models, our approach was able to solve a challenging decision-making problem under complex non-linear dynamics. The metacontroller learned to adapt the amount of computation it performed to the difficulty of the task, and learned how to choose which experts to consult by factoring in both their reliability and individual computational resource costs. This allowed the metacontroller to achieve a lower overall cost (task loss plus computational cost) than more traditional fixed policy approaches. These results demonstrate that our approach is a powerful framework for using...

* Published as a conference paper at ICLR 2017
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We introduce FeUdal Networks (FuNs): a novel architecture for hierarchical reinforcement learning. Our approach is inspired by the feudal reinforcement learning proposal of Dayan and Hinton, and gains power and efficacy by decoupling end-to-end learning across multiple levels -- allowing it to utilise different resolutions of time. Our framework employs a Manager module and a Worker module. The Manager operates at a lower temporal resolution and sets abstract goals which are conveyed to and enacted by the Worker. The Worker generates primitive actions at every tick of the environment. The decoupled structure of FuN conveys several benefits -- in addition to facilitating very long timescale credit assignment it also encourages the emergence of sub-policies associated with different goals set by the Manager. These properties allow FuN to dramatically outperform a strong baseline agent on tasks that involve long-term credit assignment or memorisation. We demonstrate the performance of our proposed system on a range of tasks from the ATARI suite and also from a 3D DeepMind Lab environment.

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