Inverse Rational Control: Inferring What You Think from How You Forage

24 May 2018  ·  Zhengwei Wu, Paul Schrater, Xaq Pitkow ·

Complex behaviors are often driven by an internal model, which integrates sensory information over time and facilitates long-term planning. Inferring an agent's internal model is a crucial ingredient in social interactions (theory of mind), for imitation learning, and for interpreting neural activities of behaving agents. Here we describe a generic method to model an agent's behavior under an environment with uncertainty, and infer the agent's internal model, reward function, and dynamic beliefs. We apply our method to a simulated agent performing a naturalistic foraging task. We assume the agent behaves rationally --- that is, they take actions that optimize their subjective utility according to their understanding of the task and its relevant causal variables. We model this rational solution as a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process (POMDP) where the agent may make wrong assumptions about the task parameters. Given the agent's sensory observations and actions, we learn its internal model and reward function by maximum likelihood estimation over a set of task-relevant parameters. The Markov property of the POMDP enables us to characterize the transition probabilities between internal belief states and iteratively estimate the agent's policy using a constrained Expectation-Maximization (EM) algorithm. We validate our method on simulated agents performing suboptimally on a foraging task currently used in many neuroscience experiments, and successfully recover their internal model and reward function. Our work lays a critical foundation to discover how the brain represents and computes with dynamic beliefs.

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