Abstract

Living organisms learn on multiple time scales: evolutionary as well as individual-lifetime learning. These two learning modes are complementary: the innate phenotypes developed through evolution significantly influence lifetime learning. However, it is still unclear how these two learning methods interact and whether there is a benefit to part of the system being optimized on a different time scale using a population-based approach while the rest of it is trained on a different time-scale using an individualistic learning algorithm. In this work, we study the benefits of such a hybrid approach using an actor-critic framework where the critic part of an agent is optimized over evolutionary time based on its ability to train the actor part of an agent during its lifetime. Typically, critics are optimized on the same time-scale as the actor using the Bellman equation to represent long-term expected reward. We show that evolution can find a variety of different solutions that can still enable an actor to learn to perform a behavior during its lifetime. We also show that although the solutions found by evolution represent different functions, they all provide similar training signals during the lifetime. This suggests that learning on multiple time-scales can effectively simplify the overall optimization process in the actor-critic framework by finding one of many solutions that can still train an actor just as well. Furthermore, analysis of the evolved critics can yield additional possibilities for reinforcement learning beyond the Bellman equation.

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