Contrastive Learning as Goal-Conditioned Reinforcement Learning

Benjamin Eysenbach, Tianjun Zhang, Sergey Levine, Ruslan Salakhutdinov

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

18 Scopus citations


In reinforcement learning (RL), it is easier to solve a task if given a good representation. While deep RL should automatically acquire such good representations, prior work often finds that learning representations in an end-to-end fashion is unstable and instead equip RL algorithms with additional representation learning parts (e.g., auxiliary losses, data augmentation). How can we design RL algorithms that directly acquire good representations? In this paper, instead of adding representation learning parts to an existing RL algorithm, we show (contrastive) representation learning methods can be cast as RL algorithms in their own right. To do this, we build upon prior work and apply contrastive representation learning to action-labeled trajectories, in such a way that the (inner product of) learned representations exactly corresponds to a goal-conditioned value function. We use this idea to reinterpret a prior RL method as performing contrastive learning, and then use the idea to propose a much simpler method that achieves similar performance. Across a range of goal-conditioned RL tasks, we demonstrate that contrastive RL methods achieve higher success rates than prior non-contrastive methods, including in the offline RL setting. We also show that contrastive RL outperforms prior methods on image-based tasks, without using data augmentation or auxiliary objectives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 - 36th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2022
EditorsS. Koyejo, S. Mohamed, A. Agarwal, D. Belgrave, K. Cho, A. Oh
PublisherNeural information processing systems foundation
ISBN (Electronic)9781713871088
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes
Event36th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2022 - New Orleans, United States
Duration: Nov 28 2022Dec 9 2022

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
ISSN (Print)1049-5258


Conference36th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNew Orleans

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing


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