Does Self-supervised Learning Really Improve Reinforcement Learning from Pixels?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 35 (NeurIPS 2022) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Xiang Li, Jinghuan Shang, Srijan Das, Michael Ryoo


We investigate whether self-supervised learning (SSL) can improve online reinforcement learning (RL) from pixels. We extend the contrastive reinforcement learning framework (e.g., CURL) that jointly optimizes SSL and RL losses and conduct an extensive amount of experiments with various self-supervised losses. Our observations suggest that the existing SSL framework for RL fails to bring meaningful improvement over the baselines only taking advantage of image augmentation when the same amount of data and augmentation is used. We further perform evolutionary searches to find the optimal combination of multiple self-supervised losses for RL, but find that even such a loss combination fails to meaningfully outperform the methods that only utilize carefully designed image augmentations. After evaluating these approaches together in multiple different environments including a real-world robot environment, we confirm that no single self-supervised loss or image augmentation method can dominate all environments and that the current framework for joint optimization of SSL and RL is limited. Finally, we conduct the ablation study on multiple factors and demonstrate the properties of representations learned with different approaches.