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Rishabh Agarwal

Rishabh Agarwal

I am a senior research scientist in the Google DeepMind team in Montréal. My research interests mainly revolve around Reinforcement Learning (RL), often with the goal of making RL methods suitable for real-world problems, and includes an outstanding paper award at NeurIPS. My personal website is at agarwl.github.io.

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    Bigger, Better, Faster: Human-level Atari with human-level efficiency
    Max Schwarzer
    Johan Obando Ceron
    Aaron Courville
    Marc Bellemare
    ICML (2023)
    Preview abstract We introduce a value-based RL agent, which we call BBF, that achieves super-human performance in the Atari 100K benchmark. BBF relies on scaling the neural networks used for value estimation, as well as a number of other design choices that enable this scaling in a sample-efficient manner. We conduct extensive analyses of these design choices and provide insights for future work. We end with a discussion about moving the goalpost for sample-efficient RL research on the ALE. View details
    Proto-Value Networks: Scaling Representation Learning with Auxiliary Tasks
    Jesse Farebrother
    Joshua Greaves
    Charline Le Lan
    Marc Bellemare
    International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR) (2023)
    Preview abstract Auxiliary tasks improve the representations learned by deep reinforcement learning agents. Analytically, their effect is reasonably well-understood; in practice, how-ever, their primary use remains in support of a main learning objective, rather than as a method for learning representations. This is perhaps surprising given that many auxiliary tasks are defined procedurally, and hence can be treated as an essentially infinite source of information about the environment. Based on this observation, we study the effectiveness of auxiliary tasks for learning rich representations, focusing on the setting where the number of tasks and the size of the agent’s network are simultaneously increased. For this purpose, we derive a new family of auxiliary tasks based on the successor measure. These tasks are easy to implement and have appealing theoretical properties. Combined with a suitable off-policy learning rule, the result is a representation learning algorithm that can be understood as extending Mahadevan & Maggioni (2007)’s proto-value functions to deep reinforcement learning – accordingly, we call the resulting object proto-value networks. Through a series of experiments on the Arcade Learning Environment, we demonstrate that proto-value networks produce rich features that may be used to obtain performance comparable to established algorithms, using only linear approximation and a small number (~4M) of interactions with the environment’s reward function. View details
    Preview abstract Offline reinforcement learning (RL) on large, heterogeneous datasets with highcapacity models can, in principle, lead to agents that generalize broadly, analogously to similar advances in vision and NLP. However, recent works argue that offline RL methods encounter unique challenges to scaling up model capacity. Drawing on the learnings from these works, we re-examine previous design choices and find that with appropriate choices: wider ResNets, cross-entropy based distributional backups, and feature normalization, offline Q-learning algorithms exhibit strong performance that scales with model capacity. Using multitask Atari as a test-bed for scaling and generalization, we train a single policy on 40 games with near-human performance using up-to 100M parameter networks, finding that model performance scales favorably with capacity. In contrast to prior work, we substantially extrapolate beyond dataset performance even when trained entirely on a large (400M transitions) but highly suboptimal dataset (51% humannormalized score). Compared to supervised approaches, offline RL scales similarly with model capacity and has better performance, especially when the dataset is suboptimal. Finally, we show that such offline Q-functions learn powerful representations that facilitate rapid transfer to novel games and fast online learning on new variations of a training game, improving over existing representation learning approaches. View details
    Revisiting Bellman Errors for Offline Model Selection
    Joshua P. Zitovsky
    Daniel de Marchi
    Michael R. Kosorok
    ICML (2023)
    Preview abstract Offline model selection (OMS), that is, choosing the best policy from a set of many policies given only logged data, is crucial for applying offline RL in real-world settings. One idea that has been extensively explored is to select Q-functions based on their mean squared Bellman error (MSBE). However, previous work has struggled to obtain adequate OMS performance with Bellman errors, leading many researchers to abandon the idea. Through theoretical and empirical analyses, we elucidate why previous work has seen pessimistic results with Bellman errors and identify conditions under which OMS algorithms based on Bellman errors will perform well. Moreover, we develop a new OMS algorithm based on the MSBE that is more accurate than prior methods and obtains impressive performance on diverse discrete control tasks, including Atari games. We open-source our data and code to enable researchers to conduct OMS experiments more easily. View details
    On the Generalization of Representations in Reinforcement Learning
    Charline Le Lan
    Stephen Tu
    Adam Oberman
    Marc G. Bellemare
    AISTATS (2022)
    Preview abstract In reinforcement learning, state representations are used to tractably deal with large problem spaces. State representations serve both to approximate the value function with few parameters, but also to generalize to newly encountered states. Their features may be learned implicitly (as part of a neural network) or explicitly (for example, the successor representation of Dayan (1993)). While the approximation properties of representations are reasonably well-understood, a precise characterization of how and when these representations generalize is lacking. In this work, we address this gap and provide an informative bound on the generalization error arising from a specific state representation. This bound is based on the notion of effective dimension which measures the degree to which knowing the value at one state informs the value at other states. Our bound applies to any state representation and quantifies the natural tension between representations that generalize well and those that approximate well. We complement our theoretical results with an empirical survey of classic representation learning methods from the literature and results on the Arcade Learning Environment, and find that the generalization behaviour of learned representations is well-explained by their effective dimension. View details
    Preview abstract Despite overparameterization, deep networks trained via supervised learning are easy to optimize and exhibit excellent generalization. One hypothesis to explain this is that overparameterized deep networks enjoy the benefits of implicit regularization induced by stochastic gradient descent, which favors parsimonious solutions that generalize well on test inputs. It is reasonable to surmise that deep reinforcement learning (RL) methods could also benefit from this effect. In this paper, we discuss how the implicit regularization effect of SGD seen in supervised learning could in fact be harmful in the offline deep RL setting, leading to poor generalization and degenerate feature representations. Our theoretical analysis shows that when existing models of implicit regularization are applied to temporal difference learning, the resulting derived regularizer favors degenerate solutions with excessive "aliasing", in stark contrast to the supervised learning case. We back up these findings empirically, showing that feature representations learned by a deep network value function trained via bootstrapping can indeed become degenerate, aliasing the representations for state-action pairs that appear on either side of the Bellman backup. To address this issue, we derive the form of this implicit regularizer and, inspired by this derivation, propose a simple and effective explicit regularizer, called DR3, that counteracts the undesirable effects of this implicit regularizer. When combined with existing offline RL methods, DR3 substantially improves performance and stability, alleviating unlearning in Atari 2600 games, D4RL domains and robotic manipulation from images. View details
    Preview abstract Learning tabula rasa, that is without any prior knowledge, is the prevalent workflow in reinforcement learning (RL) research. However, RL systems, when applied to large-scale settings, rarely operate tabula rasa. Such large-scale systems undergo multiple design or algorithmic changes during their development cycle and use ad hoc approaches for incorporating these changes without re-training from scratch, which would have been prohibitively expensive. Additionally, the inefficiency of deep RL typically excludes researchers without access to industrial-scale resources from tackling computationally-demanding problems. To address these issues, we present reincarnating RL as an alternative workflow or class of problem settings, where prior computational work (e.g., learned policies) is reused or transferred between design iterations of an RL agent, or from one RL agent to another. As a step towards enabling reincarnating RL from any agent to any other agent, we focus on the specific setting of efficiently transferring an existing sub-optimal policy to a standalone value-based RL agent. We find that existing approaches fail in this setting and propose a simple algorithm to address their limitations. Equipped with this algorithm, we demonstrate reincarnating RL's gains over tabula rasa RL on Atari 2600 games, a challenging locomotion task, and the real-world problem of navigating stratospheric balloons. Overall, this work argues for an alternative approach to RL research, which we believe could significantly improve real-world RL adoption and help democratize it further. Open-sourced code and trained agents at agarwl.github.io/reincarnating_rl . View details
    Neural Additive Models: Interpretable Machine Learning with Neural Networks
    Levi Melnick
    Nicholas Frosst
    Ben Lengerich
    Xuezhou Zhang
    Rich Caruana
    Geoffrey Everest Hinton
    NeurIPS (2021)
    Preview abstract Deep neural networks (DNNs) are powerful black-box predictors that have achieved impressive performance on a wide variety of tasks. However, their accuracy comes at the cost of intelligibility: it is usually unclear how they make their decisions. This hinders their applicability to high stakes decision-making domains such as healthcare. We propose Neural Additive Models (NAMs) which combine some of the expressivity of DNNs with the inherent intelligibility of generalized additive models. NAMs learn a linear combination of neural networks that each attend to a single input feature. These networks are trained jointly and can learn arbitrarily complex relationship between their input feature and the output. Our experiments on regression and classification datasets show that NAMs are more accurate than widely used intelligible models such as logistic regression and single decision trees. They perform similarly to existing state-of-the-art generalized additive models in accuracy, but can be more easily applied to real-world datasets. View details
    Implicit Under-Parameterization Inhibits Data-Efficient Deep Reinforcement Learning
    Aviral Kumar*
    Dibya Ghosh
    International Conference on Learning Representations (2021)
    Preview abstract We identify an implicit under-parameterization phenomenon in value-based deep RL methods that use bootstrapping: when value functions, approximated using deep neural networks, are trained with gradient descent using iterated regression onto target values generated by previous instances of the value network, more gradient updates decrease the expressivity of the current value network. We characterize this loss of expressivity in terms of a drop in the rank of the learned value network features, and show that this corresponds to a drop in performance. We demonstrate this phenomenon on widely studies domains, including Atari and Gym benchmarks, in both offline and online RL settings. We formally analyze this phenomenon and show that it results from a pathological interaction between bootstrapping and gradient-based optimization. We further show that mitigating implicit under-parameterization by controlling rank collapse improves performance. More details can be found at agarwl.github.io/iup . View details
    Contrastive Behavioural Similarity Embeddings for Generalization in Reinforcement Learning
    Marlos C. Machado
    Marc G. Bellemare
    International Conference on Learning Representations (2021)
    Preview abstract Reinforcement learning methods trained on few environments rarely learn policies that generalize to unseen environments. To improve generalization, we incorporate the inherent sequential structure in reinforcement learning for learning better representations. This approach is orthogonal to recent approaches, which rarely exploit this structure explicitly. Specifically, we introduce a theoretically motivated policy similarity metric (PSM) for measuring behavioural similarity between states. PSM assigns high similarity to states for which the optimal policies in those states as well as in future states are similar. We also present a contrastive representation learning procedure to embed any state similarity metric, which we instantiate with PSM to obtain policy similarity embeddings (PSEs). We demonstrate that PSEs improve generalization on diverse benchmarks, including LQR with spurious correlations, a jumping task from pixels, and Distracting DM Control Suite. Source code would be made available at agarwl.github.io/pse . View details
    Deep Reinforcement Learning at the Edge of the Statistical Precipice
    Max Schwarzer
    Aaron Courville
    Marc G. Bellemare
    Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems (2021)
    Preview abstract Deep reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms are predominantly evaluated by comparing their relative performance on a large suite of tasks. Most published results on deep RL benchmarks compare point estimates of aggregate performance such as mean and median scores across tasks, ignoring the statistical uncertainty implied by the use of a finite number of training runs. Beginning with the Arcade Learning Environment (ALE), the shift towards computationally-demanding benchmarks has led to the practice of evaluating only a small number of runs per task, exacerbating the statistical uncertainty in point estimates. In this paper, we argue that reliable evaluation in the few run deep RL regime cannot ignore the uncertainty in results without running the risk of slowing down progress in the field. We illustrate this point using a case study on the Atari 100k benchmark, where we find substantial discrepancies between conclusions drawn from point estimates alone versus a more thorough statistical analysis. With the aim of increasing the field's confidence in reported results with a handful of runs, we advocate for reporting interval estimates of aggregate performance and propose performance profiles to account for the variability in results, as well as present more robust and efficient aggregate metrics, such as interquartile mean scores, to achieve small uncertainty in results. Using such statistical tools, we scrutinize performance evaluations of existing algorithms on other widely used RL benchmarks including the ALE, Procgen, and the DeepMind Control Suite, again revealing discrepancies in prior comparisons. Our findings call for a change in how we evaluate performance in deep RL, for which we present a more rigorous evaluation methodology, accompanied with an open-source library rliable, to prevent unreliable results from stagnating the field. See agarwl.github.io/rliable for more details. View details
    An Optimistic Perspective on Offline Reinforcement Learning
    Mohammad Norouzi
    International Conference on Machine Learning (2020)
    Preview abstract Off-policy reinforcement learning (RL) using a fixed offline dataset of logged interactions is an important consideration in real world applications. This paper studies offline RL using the DQN replay dataset comprising the entire replay experience of a DQN agent on 60 Atari 2600 games. We demonstrate that recent off-policy deep RL algorithms, even when trained solely on this replay dataset, outperform the fully trained DQN agent. To enhance generalization in the offline setting, we present Random Ensemble Mixture (REM), a robust Q-learning algorithm that enforces optimal Bellman consistency on random convex combinations of multiple Q-value estimates. Offline REM trained on the DQN replay dataset surpasses strong RL baselines. The results here present an optimistic view that robust RL algorithms trained on sufficiently large and diverse offline datasets can lead to high quality policies. The DQN replay dataset can serve as an offline RL benchmark and is open-sourced. Refer to offline-rl.github.io for more details. View details
    Revisiting Fundamentals of Experience Replay
    Liam B. Fedus
    Mark Rowland
    Prajit Ramachandran
    Will Dabney
    Yoshua Bengio
    International Conference on Machine Learning (2020)
    Preview abstract Experience replay is central to off-policy algorithms in deep reinforcement learning (RL), but there remain significant gaps in our understanding. We therefore present a systematic and extensive analysis of experience replay in Q-learning methods, focusing on two fundamental properties: the replay capacity and the ratio of learning updates to experience collected (replay ratio). Our additive and ablative studies upend conventional wisdom around experience replay -- greater capacity is found to substantially increase the performance of certain algorithms, while leaving others unaffected. Counterintuitively we show that theoretically ungrounded, uncorrected n-step returns are uniquely beneficial while other techniques confer limited benefit for sifting through larger memory. Separately, by directly controlling the replay ratio we contextualize previous observations in the literature and empirically measure its importance across a variety of deep RL algorithms. Finally, we conclude by testing a set of hypotheses on the nature of these performance benefits. View details
    Learning to Generalize from Sparse and Underspecified Rewards
    Chen Liang
    Mohammad Norouzi
    Proceedings of the 36th International Conference on Machine Learning, PMLR, Long Beach, California, USA (2019), pp. 130-140
    Preview abstract We consider the problem of learning from sparse and underspecified rewards, where an agent receives a complex input, such as a natural language instruction, and needs to generate a complex response, such as an action sequence, while only receiving binary success-failure feedback. Such success failure rewards are often underspecified: they do not distinguish between purposeful and accidental success. Generalization from underspecified rewards hinges on discounting spurious trajectories that attain accidental success, while learning from sparse feedback requires effective exploration. We address exploration by using a mode covering direction of KL divergence to collect a diverse set of successful trajectories, followed by a mode seeking KL divergence to train a robust policy. We propose Meta Reward Learning (MeRL) to construct an auxiliary reward function that provides more refined feedback for learning. The parameters of the auxiliary reward function are optimized with respect to the validation performance of a trained policy. The MeRL approach outperforms our alternative reward learning technique based on Bayesian Optimization, and achieves the state-of-the-art on weakly-supervised semantic parsing. It improves previous work by 1.2% and 2.4% on WikiTableQuestions and WikiSQL datasets respectively. View details
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