What Can Learned Intrinsic Rewards Capture?

Reinforcement learning agents can include different components, such as policies, value functions, state representations, and environment models. Any or all of these can be the loci of knowledge, i.e., structures where knowledge, whether given or learned, can be deposited and reused. The objective of an agent is to behave so as to maximise the sum of a suitable scalar function of state: the reward. As far as the learning algorithm is concerned, these rewards are typically given and immutable. In this paper we instead consider the proposition that the reward function itself may be a good locus of knowledge. This is consistent with a common use, in the literature, of hand-designed intrinsic rewards to improve the learning dynamics of an agent. We adopt the multi-lifetime setting of the Optimal Rewards Framework, and propose to meta-learn an intrinsic reward function from experience that allows agents to maximise their extrinsic rewards accumulated until the end of their lifetimes. Rewards as a locus of knowledge provide guidance on "what" the agent should strive to do rather than "how" the agent should behave; the latter is more directly captured in policies or value functions for example. Thus, our focus here is on demonstrating the following: (1) that it is feasible to meta-learn good reward functions, (2) that the learned reward functions can capture interesting kinds of "what" knowledge, and (3) that because of the indirectness of this form of knowledge the learned reward functions can generalise to other kinds of agents and to changes in the dynamics of the environment.