Understanding and Preventing Capacity Loss in Reinforcement Learning

ICLR 2022  ·  Clare Lyle, Mark Rowland, Will Dabney ·

The reinforcement learning (RL) problem is rife with sources of non-stationarity, making it a notoriously difficult problem domain for the application of neural networks. We identify a mechanism by which non-stationary prediction targets can prevent learning progress in deep RL agents: \textit{capacity loss}, whereby networks trained on a sequence of target values lose their ability to quickly update their predictions over time. We demonstrate that capacity loss occurs in a range of RL agents and environments, and is particularly damaging to performance in sparse-reward tasks. We then present a simple regularizer, Initial Feature Regularization (InFeR), that mitigates this phenomenon by regressing a subspace of features towards its value at initialization, leading to significant performance improvements in sparse-reward environments such as Montezuma's Revenge. We conclude that preventing capacity loss is crucial to enable agents to maximally benefit from the learning signals they obtain throughout the entire training trajectory.

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