Active Tree Search in Large POMDPs

25 Mar 2021  ·  Domenico Maisto, Francesco Gregoretti, Karl Friston, Giovanni Pezzulo ·

Model-based planning and prospection are widely studied in both cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence (AI), but from different perspectives - and with different desiderata in mind (biological realism versus scalability) that are difficult to reconcile. Here, we introduce a novel method to plan in large POMDPs - Active Tree Search - that combines the normative character and biological realism of a leading planning theory in neuroscience (Active Inference) and the scalability of Monte-Carlo methods in AI. This unification is beneficial for both approaches. On the one hand, using Monte-Carlo planning permits scaling up the biologically grounded approach of Active Inference to large-scale problems. On the other hand, the theory of Active Inference provides a principled solution to the balance of exploration and exploitation, which is often addressed heuristically in Monte-Carlo methods. Our simulations show that Active Tree Search successfully navigates binary trees that are challenging for sampling-based methods, problems that require adaptive exploration, and the large POMDP problem Rocksample. Furthermore, we illustrate how Active Tree Search can be used to simulate neurophysiological responses (e.g., in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex) of humans and other animals that contain large planning problems. These simulations show that Active Tree Search is a principled realisation of neuroscientific and AI theories of planning, which offers both biological realism and scalability.

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