Predictive auxiliary tasks have been shown to improve performance in numerous reinforcement learning works, however, this effect is still not well understood. The primary purpose of the work presented here is to investigate the impact that an auxiliary task’s prediction timescale has on the agent’s policy performance. We consider auxiliary tasks which learn to make on-policy predictions using temporal difference learning. We test the impact of prediction timescale using a specific form of auxiliary task in which the input image is used as the prediction target, which we refer to as temporal difference autoencoders (TD-AE). We empirically evaluate the effect of TD-AE on the A2C algorithm in the VizDoom environment using different prediction timescales. While we do not observe a clear relationship between the prediction timescale on performance, we make the following observations: 1) using auxiliary tasks allows us to reduce the trajectory length of the A2C algorithm, 2) in some cases temporally extended TD-AE performs better than a straight autoencoder, 3) performance with auxiliary tasks is sensitive to the weight placed on the auxiliary loss, 4) despite this sensitivity, auxiliary tasks improved performance without extensive hyper-parameter tuning. Our overall conclusions are that TD-AE increases the robustness of the A2C algorithm to the trajectory length and while promising, further study is required to fully understand the relationship between auxiliary task prediction timescale and the agent’s performance.


title={Work in Progress: Temporally Extended Auxiliary Tasks},
author={Craig Sherstan and Bilal Kartal and Pablo Hernandez-Leal and Matthew E. Taylor},

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