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Workshop: Deep Reinforcement Learning Workshop

Investigating Multi-task Pretraining and Generalization in Reinforcement Learning

Adrien Ali Taiga · Rishabh Agarwal · Jesse Farebrother · Aaron Courville · Marc Bellemare


Deep reinforcement learning (RL) has achieved remarkable successes in complex single-task settings. However, learning policies that can perform multiple tasks and leverage prior experience to learn faster remains challenging. Despite previous attempts to improve on these areas, our understanding of multi-task training and generalization in reinforcement learning remains limited. In this work we propose to investigate the generalization capabilities of a popular actor-critic method, IMPALA. We build on previous work that has advocated for the use of modes and difficulties of Atari 2600 games as a benchmark for transfer learning in reinforcement learning. We do so by pretraining an agent on multiple flavours of the same game before finetuning on the remaining unseen ones. This protocol simplifies the multi-task pretraining phase by limiting negative interference between tasks and allows us to better understand the dynamics of multi-task training and generalization. We find that, given a fixed amount of pretraining data, agents trained with more variations of a game are able to generalize better. Surprisingly we observe that this advantage can be more pronounced after finetuning for 200M environment frames than when doing zero-shot transfer. This highlights the importance of the learned representation and that performance after finetuning might more appropriate to evaluate generalization in reinforcement learning. We also find that, even though small networks have remained popular to solve Atari 2600 games increasing the capacity of the value and policy network is critical to achieve good performance as we increase the number of pretraining modes and difficulties. Overall our findings emphasize key points that are crucial for efficient multi-task training and generalization in reinforcement learning.

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