[I do occasionally wonder if people will look back on the “Is All You Need” with genuine confusion in a few years. “Really…all you need?”] This paper merges the ideas of curiosity-based learning and hierarchical reinforcement learning, to propose an architecture for learning distinctive skills based solely on an incentive to make those skills distinguishable from one another and relatively internally random, rather than because they’re directly useful in achieving some reward. The notion of hierarchical reinforcement learning is that, instead of learning a single joint policy, we learn some discrete number of subpolicies, and then treat the distribution over those subpolicies as you would a distribution over actions in a baseline RL policy. In order to achieve a reward, a model jointly optimizes the action distribution of the subpolicies, and also the distribution over subpolicies. One issue with this approach, which is raised by this paper (though I don’t really have strong enough domain background here to know how much of a problem this is in practice) is that this joint optimization process means that, early in the process, we choose subpolicies that are doing the best, and sample more from and thus improve those. This “early exploitation” problem (in the explore vs exploit frame) means that we might not learn skills that would be valuable to know later on, but that don’t give us any reward until we’ve developed them further. To address this, this paper proposes DIAYN, an algorithm which (1) samples discrete latent skill vectors according to a uniform, high-entropy prior, rather than according to how useful we think they are now, and (2) doesn’t even have a direct notion of usefulness, but instead incentivizes shaping of skills to be more distinct from one another, in terms of the states that are visited by each skill’s policy. The network then learns policies conditioned on each skill vector, and at each point operates according to whichever has been sampled. This idea of distinctiveness is encapsulated by saying “we want to have high mutual information between the states visited by a skill, and the discrete ID of that skill,” or, in more practical terms, “we want to be able to train a discriminator to do a good job predicting which skill we’re sampling from, based on the states it sees. (I swear, every time I read a paper where someone uses mutual information these days, it’s actually a discriminator under the hood). https://i.imgur.com/2a378Bo.png This incentivizes the model to take actions associated with each skill that will get it to states that are unlikely to occur in any of the existing skills. Depending on what set of observations you give the discriminator to work with, you can shape what axes your skills are incentivized to vary on; if you try to discriminate skills based solely on an agent’s center of mass, you’ll end up with policies that vary their center of mass more wildly. The paper shows that, at least on simple environments, agents can learn distinctive clusters of skills based on this objective. An interesting analogy here is to unsupervised pretraining of e.g. large language models and other similar settings, where we first train a model without (potentially costly) explicit reward, and this gives us a starting point set of representations that allow us to reach good performance more quickly once we start training on supervised reward signal. There is some evidence that this pretraining effect could be captured by this kind of purely-exploratory approach, as suggested by experiments done to take the learned skills or subpolicies, hold them fixed, and train a meta-controller to pick subpolicies according to an external reward, where the “pretrained” policy reaches high reward more quickly.