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 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.