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Deep Reinforcement Learning at the Edge of the Statistical Precipice

arXiv.org Machine Learning

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.


Measuring the Reliability of Reinforcement Learning Algorithms

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Lack of reliability is a well-known issue for reinforcement learning (RL) algorithms. This problem has gained increasing attention in recent years, and efforts to improve it have grown substantially. To aid RL researchers and production users with the evaluation and improvement of reliability, we propose a set of metrics that quantitatively measure different aspects of reliability. In this work, we focus on variability and risk, both during training and after learning (on a fixed policy). We designed these metrics to be general-purpose, and we also designed complementary statistical tests to enable rigorous comparisons on these metrics. In this paper, we first describe the desired properties of the metrics and their design, the aspects of reliability that they measure, and their applicability to different scenarios. We then describe the statistical tests and make additional practical recommendations for reporting results. The metrics and accompanying statistical tools have been made available as an open-source library, here: https://github.com/google-research/rl-reliability-metrics . We apply our metrics to a set of common RL algorithms and environments, compare them, and analyze the results.


Accelerating Representation Learning with View-Consistent Dynamics in Data-Efficient Reinforcement Learning

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Learning informative representations from image-based observations is of fundamental concern in deep Reinforcement Learning (RL). However, data-inefficiency remains a significant barrier to this objective. To overcome this obstacle, we propose to accelerate state representation learning by enforcing view-consistency on the dynamics. Firstly, we introduce a formalism of Multi-view Markov Decision Process (MMDP) that incorporates multiple views of the state. Following the structure of MMDP, our method, View-Consistent Dynamics (VCD), learns state representations by training a view-consistent dynamics model in the latent space, where views are generated by applying data augmentation to states. Empirical evaluation on DeepMind Control Suite and Atari-100k demonstrates VCD to be the SoTA data-efficient algorithm on visual control tasks.


Let's Play Again: Variability of Deep Reinforcement Learning Agents in Atari Environments

arXiv.org Artificial Intelligence

Reproducibility in reinforcement learning is challenging: uncontrolled stochasticity from many sources, such as the learning algorithm, the learned policy, and the environment itself have led researchers to report the performance of learned agents using aggregate metrics of performance over multiple random seeds for a single environment. Unfortunately, there are still pernicious sources of variability in reinforcement learning agents that make reporting common summary statistics an unsound metric for performance. Our experiments demonstrate the variability of common agents used in the popular OpenAI Baselines repository. We make the case for reporting post-training agent performance as a distribution, rather than a point estimate.


Evaluating the Performance of Reinforcement Learning Algorithms

arXiv.org Machine Learning

Performance evaluations are critical for quantifying algorithmic advances in reinforcement learning. Recent reproducibility analyses have shown that reported performance results are often inconsistent and difficult to replicate. In this work, we argue that the inconsistency of performance stems from the use of flawed evaluation metrics. Taking a step towards ensuring that reported results are consistent, we propose a new comprehensive evaluation methodology for reinforcement learning algorithms that produces reliable measurements of performance both on a single environment and when aggregated across environments. We demonstrate this method by evaluating a broad class of reinforcement learning algorithms on standard benchmark tasks.