Why Generalization in RL is Difficult: Epistemic POMDPs and Implicit Partial Observability

Dibya Ghosh, Jad Rahme, Aviral Kumar, Amy Zhang, Ryan P. Adams, Sergey Levine

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

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Generalization is a central challenge for the deployment of reinforcement learning (RL) systems in the real world. In this paper, we show that the sequential structure of the RL problem necessitates new approaches to generalization beyond the well-studied techniques used in supervised learning. While supervised learning methods can generalize effectively without explicitly accounting for epistemic uncertainty, we show that, perhaps surprisingly, this is not the case in RL. We show that generalization to unseen test conditions from a limited number of training conditions induces implicit partial observability, effectively turning even fully-observed MDPs into POMDPs. Informed by this observation, we recast the problem of generalization in RL as solving the induced partially observed Markov decision process, which we call the epistemic POMDP. We demonstrate the failure modes of algorithms that do not appropriately handle this partial observability, and suggest a simple ensemble-based technique for approximately solving the partially observed problem. Empirically, we demonstrate that our simple algorithm derived from the epistemic POMDP achieves significant gains in generalization over current methods on the Procgen benchmark suite.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems 34 - 35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021
EditorsMarc'Aurelio Ranzato, Alina Beygelzimer, Yann Dauphin, Percy S. Liang, Jenn Wortman Vaughan
PublisherNeural information processing systems foundation
Pages25502-25515
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781713845393
StatePublished - 2021
Event35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Dec 6 2021Dec 14 2021

Publication series

NameAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
Volume31
ISSN (Print)1049-5258

Conference

Conference35th Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NeurIPS 2021
CityVirtual, Online
Period12/6/2112/14/21

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing

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