An Enhanced Advising Model in Teacher-Student framework using State Categorization

Published in "To appear in the Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Conference of the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI 2021)"
Daksh Anand , Vaibhav Gupta , Praveen Paruchuri , B Ravindran

The teacher-student framework aims to improve the sample efficiency of RL algorithms by deploying an advising mechanism in which a teacher helps a student by guiding its exploration. Prior work in this field has considered an advising mechanism where the teacher advises the student about the optimal action to take in a given state. However, real-world teachers can leverage domain expertise to provide more informative signals. Using this insight, we propose to extend the current advising framework wherein the teacher would provide not only the optimal action but also a qualitative assessment of the state. We introduce a novel architecture, namely Advice Replay Memory (ARM), to effectively reuse the advice provided by the teacher. We demonstrate the robustness of our approach by showcasing our experiments on multiple Atari 2600 games using a fixed set of hyper-parameters. Additionally, we show that a student taking help even from a sub-optimal teacher can achieve significant performance boosts and eventually outperform the teacher. Our approach outperforms the baselines even when provided with comparatively suboptimal teachers and an advising budget, which is smaller by orders of magnitude. The contributions of our paper are 4-fold (a) effectively leveraging a teacher’s knowledge by richer advising (b) introduction of ARM to effectively reuse the advice throughout learning (c) ability to achieve significant performance boost even with a coarse state categorization (d) enabling the student to outperform the teacher.