While optimal metareasoning is notoriously intractable, humans are nonetheless able to adaptively allocate their computational resources. A possible approximation that humans may use to do this is to only metareason over a finite set of cognitive systems that perform variable amounts of computation. The highly influential "dual-process" accounts of human cognition, which postulate the coexistence of a slow accurate system with a fast error-prone system, can be seen as a special case of this approximation. This raises two questions: how many cognitive systems should a bounded optimal agent be equipped with and what characteristics should those systems have? We investigate these questions in two settings: a one-shot decision between two alternatives, and planning under uncertainty in a Markov decision process. We find that the optimal number of systems depends on the variability of the environment and the costliness of metareasoning. Consistent with dual-process theories, we also find that when having two systems is optimal, then the first system is fast but error-prone and the second system is slow but accurate.
The efficient use of limited computational resources is an essential ingredient of intelligence. Selecting computations optimally according to rational metareasoning would achieve this, but this is computationally intractable. Inspired by psychology and neuroscience, we propose the first concrete and domain-general learning algorithm for approximating the optimal selection of computations: Bayesian metalevel policy search (BMPS). We derive this general, sample-efficient search algorithm for a computation-selecting metalevel policy based on the insight that the value of information lies between the myopic value of information and the value of perfect information. We evaluate BMPS on three increasingly difficult metareasoning problems: when to terminate computation, how to allocate computation between competing options, and planning. Across all three domains, BMPS achieved near-optimal performance and compared favorably to previously proposed metareasoning heuristics. Finally, we demonstrate the practical utility of BMPS in an emergency management scenario, even accounting for the overhead of metareasoning.
The conventional model for online planning under uncertainty assumes that an agent can stop and plan without incurring costs for the time spent planning. However, planning time is not free in most real-world settings. For example, an autonomous drone is subject to nature's forces, like gravity, even while it thinks, and must either pay a price for counteracting these forces to stay in place, or grapple with the state change caused by acquiescing to them. Policy optimization in these settings requires metareasoning---a process that trades off the cost of planning and the potential policy improvement that can be achieved. We formalize and analyze the metareasoning problem for Markov Decision Processes (MDPs). Our work subsumes previously studied special cases of metareasoning and shows that in the general case, metareasoning is at most polynomially harder than solving MDPs with any given algorithm that disregards the cost of thinking. For reasons we discuss, optimal general metareasoning turns out to be impractical, motivating approximations. We present approximate metareasoning procedures which rely on special properties of the BRTDP planning algorithm and explore the effectiveness of our methods on a variety of problems.
We can achieve significant gains in the value of computation by metareasoning about the nature or extent of base-level problem solving before executing a solution. However, resources that are irrevocably committed to metareasoning are not available for executing a solution. Thus, it is important to determine the portion of resources we wish to apply to metareasoning and control versus to the execution of a solution plan. Recent research on rational agency has highlighted the importance of limiting the consumption of resources by metareasoning machinery. We shall introduce the metareasoning-partition problem--the problem of ideally apportioning costly reasoning resources to planning a solution versus applying resource to executing a solution to a problem. We exercise prototypical metareasoning-partition models to probe the relationships between time allocated to metareasoning and to execution for different problem classes. Finally, we examine the value of metareasoning in the context of our functional analyses. This work was supported by a NASA Fellowship under Grant NCC-220-51, by the National Science Foundation under Grant IRI-8703710, and by the U.S. Army Research Office under Grant P-25514-EL. Computing facilities were provided by the SUMEX-AIM Resource under NLM Grant LM05208.
Real-time dynamic programming (RTDP) solves Markov decision processes (MDPs) when the initial state is restricted, by focusing dynamic programming on the envelope of states reachable from an initial state set. RTDP often provides performance guarantees without visiting the entire state space. Building on RTDP, recent work has sought to improve its efficiency through various optimizations, including maintaining upper and lower bounds to both govern trial termination and prioritize state exploration. In this work, we take a Bayesian perspective on these upper and lower bounds and use a value of perfect information (VPI) analysis to govern trial termination and exploration in a novel algorithm we call VPI-RTDP. VPI-RTDP leads to an improvement over state-of-the-art RTDP methods, empirically yielding up to a three-fold reduction in the amount of time and number of visited states required to achieve comparable policy performance.