Debiasing Meta-Gradients for Self-Tuning Reinforcement Learning

Clément Bonnet | Laurence Illing Midgley | Alexandre Laterre



Meta-gradient Reinforcement Learning (RL) allows agents to self-tune their hyper-parameters in an online fashion during training. In this paper, we identify a bias in the meta-gradient of current meta-gradient RL approaches. This bias comes from using the critic that is trained using the meta-learned discount factor for the advantage estimation in the outer objective which requires a different discount factor. Because the meta-learned discount factor is typically lower than the one used in the outer objective, the resulting bias can cause the meta-gradient to favor myopic policies. We propose a simple solution to this issue: we eliminate this bias by using an alternative, \emph{outer} value function in the estimation of the outer loss. To obtain this outer value function we add a second head to the critic network and train it alongside the classic critic, using the outer loss discount factor. On an illustrative toy problem, we show that the bias can cause catastrophic failure of current meta-gradient RL approaches, and show that our proposed solution fixes it. We then apply our method to a more complex environment and demonstrate that fixing the meta-gradient bias can significantly improve performance.