Behavior Alignment via Reward Function Optimization

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper Supplemental


Dhawal Gupta, Yash Chandak, Scott Jordan, Philip S. Thomas, Bruno C. da Silva


Designing reward functions for efficiently guiding reinforcement learning (RL) agents toward specific behaviors is a complex task.This is challenging since it requires the identification of reward structures that are not sparse and that avoid inadvertently inducing undesirable behaviors. Naively modifying the reward structure to offer denser and more frequent feedback can lead to unintended outcomes and promote behaviors that are not aligned with the designer's intended goal. Although potential-based reward shaping is often suggested as a remedy, we systematically investigate settings where deploying it often significantly impairs performance. To address these issues, we introduce a new framework that uses a bi-level objective to learn \emph{behavior alignment reward functions}. These functions integrate auxiliary rewards reflecting a designer's heuristics and domain knowledge with the environment's primary rewards. Our approach automatically determines the most effective way to blend these types of feedback, thereby enhancing robustness against heuristic reward misspecification. Remarkably, it can also adapt an agent's policy optimization process to mitigate suboptimalities resulting from limitations and biases inherent in the underlying RL algorithms. We evaluate our method's efficacy on a diverse set of tasks, from small-scale experiments to high-dimensional control challenges. We investigate heuristic auxiliary rewards of varying quality---some of which are beneficial and others detrimental to the learning process. Our results show that our framework offers a robust and principled way to integrate designer-specified heuristics. It not only addresses key shortcomings of existing approaches but also consistently leads to high-performing solutions, even when given misaligned or poorly-specified auxiliary reward functions.